”John Carter”’s Taylor Kitsch is back to remind us that brawn doesn’t always equate to a successful box-office run, not for that matter, a good movie.

A caper involving young drug dealers, crooked law-enforcers and trigger-happy drug kingpins? Now that, combined with ”Savages” great cast (John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek) and one-time terrific director (Oliver Stone) at the helm, could’ve resulted in a cinematic squeal of ecstasy… alas, it doesn’t.

Based on the book by Don Winslow, Savages tells of two highly-successful drug dealers in their twenties (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) who are forced to rescue their ‘shared’ girlfriend ‘O’ (Blake Lively) from the clutches of a competing drug cartel. Salma Hayek plays the kingpin, Benicio Del Toro is her right-hand man, and John Travolta plays the smarmy DEA agent caught embroiled in the mess. And there’s sex in a bath tub. Heads being blown off too.

Guessing ”Savages” is Oliver Stone trying to remain current and valid in a marketplace that, let’s be honest, isn’t hungry for the types of movies the outspoken and controversial filmmaker behind ‘let’s silence this guy, quick!” It shows, Savages collapsing under the weight of its own thin structure and faux coolness. Without a mega-engrossing stratagem to deter punters, it becomes all too apparent that the visuals, dialogue and even the performances are amateur-hour homage’s to those that do it better (be it Tarantino, Soderbergh, or even, dare I say, Barry Sonnenfeld – whose Get Shorty, another crime caper starring John Travolta, proved a much more successful film). Savages will be eaten alive at the local box-office, just as it was stateside.

What’s likely gone on here is the film’s stout and starry cast – which also includes such usually-reliable thesps as Del Toro, resulting in a credit block that reads like the bibliography of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopaedia – have been excited to work with him, they’ve followed the lead of their legendary director, Oliver Stone. Usually, that’d be a good movie, but not when the director has decided to shout direction and offer his advice from under a coconut tree, where behind dark tinted glasses he sipped margaritas and was seemingly more engrossed in the EL James novel he had cued up (that likely explains the profusion of awkward sex scenes in ”Savages”) on his kindle than with the job at hand.

Stone had planned to shoot another of his Preachy war epics (”Pinkville”) as his latest project – the script of which is apparently great, preach aside – but upon learning the audience for those films have essentially retired to an earlier bedtime and the comfort of TiVo’ed ”The Newsroom” eps, the investors fell out. As such, Stone had to answer a “director wanted” ad for a project he wouldn’t normally have touched.. unless under the influence of pink pills (which is the only explanation for why he decided to direct Natural Born Killers). He needs his own capital. Or a holiday. Or both.

Stone is back in average film territory by no fault of his own; he’s forgotten that he’s capable of making great movies and if half the flicks he’s made over the past decade or so (everything from the one with Robert Downey Jr donning the worst Aussie accent in the history of film) are anything to go by, he’s in no hurry to remember how to make another one. Lazy pays the same, no doubt. He’s lost the passion.

And no offense to the girl but the first indication that Stone didn’t much care how this thing turned out, so long as he got his cheque, was the hiring of Blake Lively (”Gossip Girl”) as the female lead. She’s way out of her depth here, and Stone – a man renowned for his remarkable casting choices – would’ve known that. Instead of hiring someone with the chops, he’s cast a pretty young TV star in a part that could’ve essentially pushed the movie towards being that something special, if audiences had given a damn or been able to relate to her. Sadly, Lively’s weak turn here doesn’t cut it. Her blouse deserves the cheque, not her.

“Get Shorty”, “Broken Arrow”, “Face Off”, “Blow Out”, “Grease”, “Wild Hogs”, “Old Dogs”, “Swordfish”, “The Shaggy Dog”, “The Punisher”, “Be Cool”, “Shout”, “White Man’s Burden”…. yep, John Travolta has finally done it – he’s made a film with a title that doesn’t lend itself too easily to a 140 character tweet gag encompassed of sordid massage innuendo!
That’s ”Savages” main accomplishment.

Extras : Commentaries, deleted scenes, a lengthy making-of… Uni didn’t skimp on the extras here.