Some say that marijuana is harmless, some harmful -- but it's the cause of tremendous brutality in Savages, the latest film from director Oliver Stone. Friendship, love, loyalty, and business all collide at this look at the highest levels of the drug trade.

It all begins with a seemingly idyllic trio of people in Laguna Beach, California. Ben (Aaron Johnson) is a hippie idealist who helps poor people in third-world countries, believes in developing alternative energy, and creates and grows some of the most potent marijuana in the world. Chon (Taylor Kitsch), Ben's best friend and business partner, is a cynical ex-marine who handles the violent side of their drug business. And then there's O (Blake Lively), short for "Ophelia," the blonde beauty who has an open relationship with the two of them. The three enjoy an opulent life of sun, wealth, and friendship.

Unfortunately, success brings attention. The Baja cartel from Mexico wants Ben and Chon to work for them; and when the two friends offer the business but refuse to work for them, cartel leader Elena (Salma Hayak) decides to up the stakes. She has her enforcer Lado (Benecio Del Toro) kidnap O, and Elena makes a new demand: She'll keep O hostage for a year, and the two men will work for the Baja cartel for three years. But the two friends aren't willing to just roll over, and soon they're stealing, killing, and proving as brutal as the cartel in their attempt to get O back. Meanwhile, Elena seems to befriend O while dealing with her daughter issues, federal agent Dennis (John Travolta) is playing all the sides against each other, and the body count keeps rising.

While Savages is more about a love triangle than the drug culture, it's also somewhat routine. O's narration doesn't add much to the story, and it's overtly stated early on that Ben and Chon complement each other perfectly (as well as both sides calling the other "savages"). There's a large cast of characters that are introduced and then forgotten about for the rest of the movie, and a cinematic rewind that's more showy than necessary. The acting is solid (especially Johnson as the idealist who finds himself becoming more and more corrupt) but the story never really takes off. Oliver Stone does a good job with his actors, but Savages will go down as one of his decent films, not one of his best.

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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