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'Savages' review: Hollow shock value

Chon (Taylor Kitsch), left, O (Blake Lively), and

Chon (Taylor Kitsch), left, O (Blake Lively), and Ben (Aaron Johnson) in a scene from "Savages." Credit: Francois Duhamel

Oliver Stone's "Savages" tells the story of two pot dealers whose shared girlfriend is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel. Given its mix of drugs, sex, capitalism and warfare, I expected an incendiary combination of Stone's "Natural Born Killers," "Platoon" and maybe even his politically perverse documentary "South of the Border."

Instead, "Savages" is a juvenile fantasy of bullets, breasts and bongs -- not such a bad thing, if Stone would just admit it and stop staging the film as a profound ethical wrestling match. Co-written by Stone, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (from his noirish, jive-talking novel), "Savages" is so hollow and hypocritical that it can't even decide on an ending. You'll get more than one, but it's no bargain.

Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch (on dinger No. 3 this year, following "John Carter" and "Battleship") play Ben and Chon, boutique growers living in a Southern California bungalow with O (Blake Lively), who's as emptily erotic as her name.

Everyone is let off any moral hooks: Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a budding George Soros who improves African villages, while muscleman Chon only kneecaps dirtbags who deserve it. But when the Baja cartel swoops in (John Travolta plays a corrupt DEA agent in the middle), do-gooder Ben finds himself forced to do bad.

Stone tries to plumb the depth of these characters, but they're skin deep and alarmingly dumb. ("Dope is supposed to be bad," says O, "but in a bad, bad world, it's good.") Salma Hayek as drug honcho Elena Sanchez, and Benicio Del Toro as Lado, the world's deadliest Mexican gardener, are broadly entertaining, but "Savages" never seriously addresses the real drug wars currently depopulating Mexico. The film's mess-with-your-head finale, meant as a clever fake-out, is just a cop-out.

Ultimately, "Savages" is the rare Oliver Stone film with absolutely nothing to say.

PLOT Two pot dealers try to rescue their shared girlfriend from the clutches of a Mexican drug cartel. RATING R (bloody violence, sex, drug-use)

CAST Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Oliver Stone's latest attempt at provocation is merely a post-toke daydream of sex and violence, all hollow shock value and no depth.

Oliver Stone secretive about 'Secret'

'Savages" isn't Oliver Stone's only high-profile project in the offing: He has been racing to finish "Secret History of America," a documentary series due on Showtime in November.

"It's been a four-year on-and-off effort," Stone said. "There are 10 one-hour episodes. That's like making a 10-hour movie, but in a classic documentary style."

Stone says that the series will be "mainstream" but that it's not intended to reinforce what you think you already know about the country's history since 1945. "We take a lot of myths that exist and stand them upside-down. It really does look at history in a way I've never seen," Stone says. "We're trying to understand how we got from World War II to the present."

He didn't offer any specifics, but Stone did say that subjects include Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. "I'm not looking to create controversy," he said of his unwillingness to divulge episode details. "I'm looking to get it done." But expect the series to make waves.

-- Los Angeles Times

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