Stone’s ‘Savages’; Gruff ‘Ride’; Dueling Brothers: Movies

Salma Hayek with Blake Lively, who plays Hayek's prisoner in "Savages." The ferocious thriller from three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone features an ensemble cast. Photographer: Francois Duhamel/Universal Studios via Bloomberg

Kneecaps are shot, cars are blown up, women are abducted, heads roll on the floor and one unlucky suit gets bullwhipped, doused with gasoline and torched in the Oliver Stone thriller “Savages.”

It’s about two American hunks (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) who grow and sell such excellent weed that they attract the interest of a Mexican cartel.

The body count quickly reached double digits. Then Salma Hayek entered as Elena, the head of the cartel, and the movie ascended to such sublime idiocy that I finally started to enjoy myself.

Hayek seems to have taken her template from the most famous of all high-camp performances: Maria Montez as the high priestess of the snake worshipers in the 1944 “Cobra Woman.” The high priestess, however, doesn’t have a mall-rat daughter in L.A. who hates her.

“Savages” comes from a 2010 satirical crime novel by Don Winslow, who also worked on the screenplay, so the comedy clearly isn’t unintentional. Still, I doubt that using Brahms on the soundtrack was Winslow’s idea, or that this solemn excess was meant to be as funny as I found it.

Stoner Humor

The movie zooms along on a mixture of sex, blood, stoned humor and mockery of over-privileged California women.

When the cartel kidnaps Ophelia, or O (Blake Lively), the rich, luscious blonde the two growers have happily shared, and throw her in a cage in Mexico, she wants to know where the toothbrush is.

John Travolta has a good time, as usual, playing a corrupt DEA agent. Benicio Del Toro, on the other hand, is so convincing as Elena’s brutal right-hand man that he becomes an unwanted reminder that the cartels really are killing people in droves.

“Savages” doesn’t have the swagger of self-importance I associate with Stone. It’s violent, yes; bloated, yes; ridiculous, absolutely -- which is its saving grace.

‘Savages,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***

‘Last Ride’

One look at Kev (Hugo Weaving) and you know that sooner or later there’s going to be violence. It’s written on his bearded, surly face.

He and his 10-year-old son, Chook (Tom Russell), are on the run across Australia. It takes a while to find out what they’re fleeing, not so long to perceive that the road they’re on is a dead end.

Most of Glendyn Ivin’s gruff, laconic “Last Ride”is just Kev and Chook riding, camping and occasionally exchanging a few words against the forbidding beauty of the bush and the desert.

Yet it’s hard to peel your eyes away from Greig Fraser’s darkly gorgeous camera work. Actually, I did look away more than once, afraid something terrible was about to happen. It didn’t (though what happens is bad enough).

Weaving, playing a lowlife who wants to be a passable father but has no idea how, and Russell, as a kid trying not to let himself see what a brute his father really is, couldn’t be better.

You can almost watch Chook’s face closing off -- he’s learning from his dad, all right.

And Weaving so fully inhabits the hairy-chested jailbird that it’s startling to think of him pirouetting on stilettos in his best-known early role, as one of the three traveling drag queens in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

“Last Ride,” from Music Box Films, is playing in New York. Rating: ***


Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) are estranged brothers who meet again when Jeremy shows up, uninvited, at their mother’s house for Mark’s birthday.

They’re both still chafing over a 25-event personal Olympics (arm wrestling, breath holding, etc.) they held 20 years earlier and called “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.” Due to a technicality, no champion was declared.

Now they’re couch potatoes on the verge of middle age. Jeremy is a cool-cat bachelor who makes a living playing professional poker; Mark is an overweight stress case.

He and his good-natured wife, Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), and their sullen kid, Hunter (Reid Williams), have flown in for what’s supposed to be a fun, relaxing weekend, so Mark is quietly furious when Jeremy appears.

Settling Scores

Soon they’re gripped in a new do-deca, with Hunter the enthusiastic referee. But they have to compete on the sly: Both Stephanie and their mother (Julie Vorus) know that Mark’s doctor and his shrink have told him to lower his tension levels.

You can see the dead seriousness with which the brothers set out to humiliate each other, and you can register the dismay on Hunter’s face as his dad goes inexorably around the bend. In a flash, the movie accelerates from silly to painful.

“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is about how, no matter what you do to defend yourself, your siblings can get under your skin in a way that nobody else can.

Not surprisingly, it was written and directed by two brothers, Jay and Mark Duplass, who shot it in 2008 (before they went on to make the bigger-budget “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”) and finished it this year.

They went back to suburban New Orleans, where they grew up, to film at the YMCA, the laser tag center and other places they competed in as kids. The locations, like everything in this movie, feel just right.

“The Do-Deca-Pentathlon,” from Red Flag Releasing, is playing in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:

****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Mediocre
(No stars) Avoid

(Craig Seligman is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include New York Weekend and London Weekend.

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