"Savages," Oliver Stone's new drug and sex drenched thriller, is fiercely dividing America's top critics.
Reviews for the gritty film range from raves about its stylized brutality to pans that decry its narrative bombast. Despite endorsements from the likes of A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert, the film currently has a 59 percent "rotten" ranking on the critics' aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
"Savages" stars John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch and opens Friday. The adaptation of Don Winslow's best-selling crime novel stirs together a pair of Southern California pot-dealers, their ménage à trois with a beach bunny and the Mexican drug cartel that is intent on harshing their mellow and shouldering in on their business.
Writing in TheWrap, Alonso Duralde complains that although the movie is never dull, it's all flash and no substance.
"Things fall apart at the end in a way that won’t be revealed here, but the climax smacks of either screenwriter desperation, directorial indecision or 'this worked in the book' — in any event, the last few minutes manage to fritter away a majority of whatever goodwill 'Savages' has accrued," Duralde writes.
Also left cold by the onscreen carnage and cannabis was Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, who labeled the film "too violent."
"[Stone's] weakness for what the Motion Picture Assn. of America calls 'strong, brutal and grisly violence' overpowers everything else: at those overdone moments, the tension in the scenario dissipates and you fall out of the movie," Turan writes.
Chicago Tribune scribe Michael Phillips had less of an issue with the gore than with the performances of "Savages" three youthful leads — Kitsch, Lively and Johnson.
"'Savages' is a silly and self-serious movie, but its juiciest turns (John Travolta activates his exposition-heavy dialogue nicely as a jumpy, double-dealing Drug Enforcement Administration officer) offer some distraction from the torpor generated by the script's central trio," Phillips writes.
But Stone's propulsive approach to the material had its admirers. In The New York Times, A.O. Scott hailed the picture's pulpy style and sense of humor.
"'Savages' is a daylight noir, a western, a stoner buddy movie and a love story, which is to say that it is a bit of a mess," Scott writes. "But also a lot of fun, especially as its pulp elements rub up against some gritty geopolitical and economic themes."
Joining him in the pro-Stone camp was Roger Ebert, who wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that the picture did an expert job of dramatizing the morally compromised dealers, lovers and corrupt agents that people "Savages."
"A return to form for Stone's dark side, 'Savages' generates ruthless energy and some, but not too much, humor," Ebert writes. "The movie is a battle between good and evil, you could say, except that everyone in it is evil — but some are less evil than others, and they all have their good sides."