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Movie Review: Savages

By Bob Garver

Here’s how excited I was to see “Savages”: My favorite pizza place is located next to a subway entrance. Above the entrance is a prominently-displayed ad for “Savages”. One night while I was picking up some garlic knots, I pointed to the sign just outside and told the cashier that I couldn’t wait to see “Savages”. The cashier and I hadn’t been talking about the movie or even movies in general. I just felt the need to blurt out how awesome it looked. The movie promised to be an action-packed thrill ride with Salma Hayek as the cartel leader villain. Salma Hayek is in the movie as a cartel leader villain, but the movie isn’t nearly as exciting as it claims to be.

The film stars Blake Lively as Ophelia, shared girlfriend of entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Ben and Chon run a quaint little drug empire in California while Ophelia spends her time… hanging out with them I guess. They have a huge mansion, a pile of money, and a relatively trouble-free operation. They don’t even have to worry about the DEA, thanks to a cozy relationship with crooked agent Dennis (John Travolta). Much is made of the disparate personalities of the peaceful Ben and the militant Chon early in the film, but once the plot kicks into gear, they pretty much become the same character.

Determined to ruin the trio’s idyllic lifestyle is vicious cartel leader Elena Sanchez (Hayek). She wants Ben and Chon’s business, but more than that she wants Ben and Chon. She wants them as employees so they can bring her the success they brought themselves. Elena makes them a tempting financial offer, but they politely refuse, preferring an early retirement to staying in the game too long. She responds by having her goons led by Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnap Ophelia. Now the deal is that Ophelia will remain a hostage until she gets the services she wants from Chon and Ben. They aren’t interested in taking this deal either. They decide to resort to violence to get Ophelia back.

I don’t think the script does a single character justice. The protagonists are unlikeable, and not because they’re drug criminals, but because they’re spoiled, undeveloped and dull. Most of the audience at my screening was rooting for Elena at the end, and while I’m the first to champion Hayek’s charm, the audience should love to hate her, not just love her. The film wants us to see that Elena has a vulnerable side, but it spends so much time driving the point home that by the end we only see her as vulnerable. Lado is little more than a one-note sicko, and Dennis is only in the movie so characters from both sides can “sell out” by trying to work with him.

The problems with “Savages” don’t stop at the characters. The action sequences feel routine and inconsequential. The “shocking” violence that the film is so proud of isn’t much different from what you’d find in one of those walk-through haunted house attractions that advertise with fliers at fast food restaurants. Perhaps most annoying of all is the fake-out ending that serves no purpose other than to give the film a fake-out ending. I went out of my way to tell the cashier at my favorite pizza place that I wanted to see “Savages”. Now while I’m eating cold pizza I’m telling you that I didn’t like it.

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

“Savages” is rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout. Its running time is 120 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu