It’s a bad sign when a film opens with a voiceover, let alone an excuse. “Just ’cause I’m telling you this story doesn’t mean that I’m alive at the end of it,” says O (Blake Lively) at the onset of Oliver Stone’s cannabis combat yarn Savages. Got it? Just because the pacing of the rambling screenplay adapted from Don Winslow’s novel is so uneven that O narrates doesn’t mean she’s going to be killed after getting caught up in the drug war. She could live or die. Anything can happen when you’re in a love triangle with a pair of best-buddy pot growers.
How she met Afghan War vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Buddha-worshipping botanist Ben (Aaron Johnson) is unclear, but she does fill us in on their history. Friends since high school, Chon and Ben turned seeds from Afghanistan into a strain of pot many times more powerful than the vicious Mexican drug gangs can provide. A hostile takeover begins with a proposition by Alex (Demiaìn Bichir), a front for cartel queen Elena (Selma Hayek), but it’s one that can’t easily be refused or accepted. Chon and Ben want out of the business; Elena insists on three years of service.
Gruesome violence, to which Ben is especially sensitive, is unavoidable. The boys have DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) and hacker Spin (Emile Hirsch) helping them out, but Elena has bloodthirsty Lado (Benicio Del Toro) doing her dirty work. It turns out there is a bigger picture involving Mexican elections and a war with a rival cartel, but Stone avoids overt political themes and political statements. He does alternate compelling action scenes with momentum-killing dialogue digressions, and provides a choice of endings from which to choose. That may originate with Winslow’s novel, but alternate endings are for DVD extras, not theatrical releases. MATT KELEMEN