FILM: Savages (15)

Bad things happen to bad people.

In Oliver Stone’s films, the wicked pay heavily for their manifold sins and the Oscar-winning writer-director certainly doles out tough justice to the godforsaken characters in this serpentine and sexually-charged immorality tale co-written by Shane Salerno and Don Winslow.

Violence begets more violence as two best friends with a thriving marijuana business are challenged for control of their idyllic strip of Laguna Beach in California by a powerful drug cartel.

No one here is truly innocent, even kidnap victims are painted in shades of grey.

The script spices up the back-stabbing and betrayal with breathless sex scenes between the good-looking leads, including a hazy, post-bong fumble that suggests three might not be a crowd after all.

Stone directs with typical gusto but he should have trimmed back the voiceover narration that occasionally errs towards unintentional hilarity, such as when the heroine compares her two lovers to cold metal and warm wood.

She’ll need to watch out for splinters.

Talented botanist Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his buddy Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy Seal and ex-mercenary, make a small fortune by growing marijuana in their sun-baked stretch of Orange County.

They are connected by pampered rich girl Ophelia (Blake Lively), who showers them both with sexual favours.

Then the Mexican Baja Cartel, run by Elena (Salma Hayek), her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and legal eagle Alex (Demian Bichir), swaggers into the town and forcefully suggests Ben and Chon share the secrets of their lucrative business model.

Corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), who has underhand dealings with Ben and Chon, urges the duo to accept Elena’s offer. Chon disagrees.

“When they smell fear, they will attack us. They’re savages!” he tells Ben, urging his petrified buddy to stay strong in the face of intimidation.

So Elena ups the stakes by kidnapping Ophelia, knowing full well that the friends will do anything to recover the object of their lustful affections.

Savages opens with a confession from Ophelia - “Just because I’m telling you this doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end...” - and Stone’s slippery film proceeds to twist and turn like a cornered rattlesnake, right up to the tricky final shootout.

Taylor-Johnson and Kitsch are solid and Lively wafts prettily through her scenes in a drug-induced haze.

Hayek has great fun with her feisty femme, sporting flowing black, silken locks as she orders the death of feeble underlings or tells Ophelia that sharing two men is a recipe for disaster: “There is something wrong with your love story, baby.”

Explosions of violence are graphic through pertinent to the plot, whether it’s the gruesome torture of a mole or Chon getting Dennis’s attention with his hunting knife.

“You stabbed a federal agent!” squeals Travolta, bringing mordant humour to the blood-soaked party.

By Damon Smith


Released: September 21 (UK & Ireland), 129 mins