What Not to Watch: “Savages”

This is what I usually dream about.

It seems a reoccurring theme in my life that my movie snobbery is to be at odds with the tastes of my family. My brother loved Ghost Rider. My mother raves about Jack & Jill. And my father still quotes Django periodically (which was admittedly a great movie). Readers might remember a few weeks back when I was swindled into watching When a Man Loves a Woman with my brother and our respective significant others. This time around, while nursing a dull headache after a night of imbibing at my friend’s birthday party, I weakly resisted with a grumble as my brother popped Savages (2012) into the DVD player with the promise that we would enjoy it. I may or may not have slept through large portions of the movie, which hasn’t happened since I saw The Truman Show as a child and struggled to “get it” despite a liking for Jim Carrey. What follows is based purely on the bits I remember seeing smattered with my assumptions from seeing the trailers for it and whatever I dreamt about during my nap time.

In pot-friendly Laguna Beach, California, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a hippie stoner with a penchant for social justice and a dual degree in herbology and entrepreneurship teams up with his violent best friend Chon (Taylor Kitsch) to start the best marijuana business around. Ben grows the kush. Chon beats the crap out of anyone that stands in their way. With Ben’s skill at growing and Chon’s savage protection, they are able to grow the best stuff. Seriously, their THC contents are off the charts and people can’t get enough. Murderous forces stir in Mexico and threaten their business, and when Ben and Chon reject an offer of partnership, all hell breaks loose. Salma Hayek, playing a drug lord in her own right, sicks her henchman (played by Benicio del Toro) on them to make their lives a living hell.

It would be a simple enough tale of millennial drug lords if it weren’t for the narrative device: Blake Lively provides the voice over narration throughout the film and plays Ben and Chon’s shared trophy. Her name is just O for Ophelia, because she hated being named after a sad Shakespeare character (her words, not mine). The thing is, O is in an open relationship with both Ben and Chon. As in she has sex with both of them over the course of one afternoon. Without showering. And then later with them both at the same time. Together. Say what you will about new age sexuality and trends in relationships, but I can’t help but say that their relationship situation seems more than a bit messed up. Rather than do anything even remotely like empowering the women that might love to assume O’s role, Savages sets her up to be a trophy to be shared by the guys and eventually a captured bargaining chip to be used as ransom. At no point does her character transcend past the level of object. When she gets kidnapped by Ben and Chon’s enemies, the pair basically decides to wage a war to get her back.

“Guys, how could this possibly be weird? Look at my ponytail!”

At some point in the movie, we find out that Elena (Salma Hayek) has a daughter that’s roughly O’s age named Magda. We also find out that Ben and Chon have a DEA agent named Dennis (John Travolta) who gets both money and pot from the pair, which is apparently enough to allow Chon to stab him out of frustration at one point. Admittedly, the meat of the movie is where I drifted off to sleep, but from what I can gather, O is imprisoned as a house pet with Elena and kept in terrible conditions. Ben and Chon somehow track down Magda and use her as a bargaining chip against Elena, who as it turns out, isn’t some cold, hard drug lord (lady?) and she actually cares quite deeply about her daughter. The finale, violent confrontation is rather reminiscent of the finale to the Twilight series. If you see both, you’ll understand why. Hint: it’s the vampires. (Just kidding).

Savages is a movie that tries to take a premise that could have been immensely popular in the 90’s and adapt it with some new age ideas of savagery and progressive types of polyamorous relationships that under no circumstances could hold up as something decent and substantive. I was unconscious throughout the meaty middle section, but I can imagine it riddled with unbridled tension between Ben and Chon who having lost the sexual gratification of O suddenly are at each other’s throats and competing over who is O’s true love. If the movie somehow managed to avoid this altogether, I might even commend the filmmaker’s for it, but it’s hard for the viewer to care about any of the main characters. It would have been better if Ben and O were siblings and Chon was with O. Then their circumstance as an inseparable trio could have been solidified as something believable, even wholesome, rather than some lame, perverted and ongoing ménage à trois that seems like it would inevitably fail. All in all, it’s a mediocre film at best whose drama isn’t very believable or even that dramatic. I might even recommend that you skip it!

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