Take "Savages" as it is: pure entertainment.
It's fun to watch two knuckleheads, Chon and Ben, played adequately by the almost impossibly unlucky Taylor Kitsch (who survived two major flops this year, "John Carter" and "Battleship") and "Kick Ass" star Aaron Johnson, rise to prominence as expert pot growers-dealers who have discovered a way to pack their weed with more than 30 percent of THC.
They live in the very un-savage-looking Laguna Beach and share a girlfriend, Ophelia, simply called "O," played by Blake Lively. The trio have a lot of sex, smoke a lot of pot and have lives packed with the excitement of a thriving business and the pleasure of a three-way setup that seems bound to eventually fail.
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Blake Lively, left, and Benicio Del Toro in a scene from “Savages.”
The fun, for them, comes to a halt when a Mexican drug cartel, run by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek), wants in on their business and threatens them with a video (and a cheesy-looking message with a silly font that seems straight out of a 90s' film) that graphically displays freshly beheaded corpses.
At first, Chon, an Iraq war vet, is not intimidated. He thinks the guys should tell the cartel to stick it and carry on as before. Ben, on the other hand, wants to get out of the business anyway - he has his eyes on making solar panels available for the poor all around the world - and sees this as a step towards that goal.
Things get tricky when the cartel doesn't take no for an answer and ends up stealing the most important thing to both stoners, O.
The guys then have to suck it up and take the cartel's strict orders, otherwise their girl will "die and die badly." (I'm not spoiling anything - this is all revealed in the trailer.)
None of this setup feels real in the slightest - it all has an atmosphere of cartoonish absurdity that reminded me of "Inglourious Basterds," but not done quite as well. Stone has his eyes on the actors and not reality.
Benicio Del Toro storms around with a bad haircut and an even worse Mexican accent but with that ever-engaging, worn face and Hayek wears a ridiculous wig that, cleverly, interferes with her beauty through the film.
Some of the best moments come from scenes when Del Toro and Hayek are allowed to just sit with Lively as they try to get to know her. At these times, it feels like the film stops - you almost forget what the stakes are - and you just have two people feeling each other out (literally, in Del Toro's case).
John Travolta, who plays Chon and Ben's CIA insider pal and performs as a mediator between them and the cartel, is a riot and almost steals the show from the film's central duo. He is obviously having a ball playing a character who is an indispensable member of everyone's operations - one that knows he can basically say and do what he wants and get away with it (up to a certain point).
As other critics have noted, Travolta's presence highlights the deficiencies of Kitsch and Johnson's abilities. The two seem to have been cast because they fit their parts well, not because they're great actors. Kitsch seems like he could be a battered Iraq war vet and Johnson seems like he could be an idealistic stoner, but neither of them could be Woody Harrelson.
Stone, in reconnecting with his inner badass, is a little unfocused in his filmmaking. The film's tone varies wildly. One minute it feels like a police procedural and the next like a black comedy. But stylistic inconsistencies aside, the film is never boring and it's good to see Stone exploring his wild side again.