| July 5, 2012

I must warn you: This isn't your typical review column rating whether or not the film is necessarily any good, but rather if it's worthy of a "date night" out at the box office.

Life is grand in Laguna Beach for Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and their girlfriend Ophelia (Blake Lively). Yes, she is their girlfriend, as in both Ben’s and Chon’s equally. You see, Ben and Chon not only share a beautiful house overlooking the beach, but a one-of-a-kind love story with Ophelia (or as she simply goes by, “O”). They also happen to share one more thing: a marijuana business that grows the best weed in the world! Ben (a hippy all about peace, love and helping the poor) is the brains of the operation, and he has engineered a supercharged strain of dope that will get you higher than a kite. Chon, on the other hand, is a former Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran who provides the protection and punch when people don't pay up. Their girlfriend, O, is the glue holding them and their enterprise together.

Business is booming and every day is idyllic in their southern California paradise until the Mexican Baja Cartel moves in and demands that the trio partner with them. When they refuse, O is nabbed and held hostage as an incentive to make the boys work with the cartel, which is led by the merciless Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro). What the Mexican drug dealers underestimate is the boys’ unbreakable bond with O, and the levels of hell they're willing to go through to save her.

What follows is a violent, satirical and sleazy look inside the drug-dealing world as only Oliver Stone can deliver. The movie features typical Stone-style storytelling, and he changes film stock several times, giving it that "Natural Born Killers" feel. The action is certainly intense, and between all the violent raids, double crossing and backdoor dealings, you never know who may get their head axed next (though chainsaws are the preferred method of decapitation here). Speaking of double dealing, John Travolta turns in one of his best performances in years as a dirty DEA officer. Also noteworthy is Benicio Del Toro as Lado, the epitome of evil. This guy is your worst nightmare; not only does he torture people, but he actually enjoys and relishes any opportunity to do so. In a film full of bad guys (even our heroes are lawbreaking drug dealers!), he's the baddest ... and the best character of the lot.

Look, this film isn't Stone's "JFK" or even "Any Given Sunday," and that’s probably its biggest problem.  Stone has given theater-goers some of the all-time classics (“Platoon” and “Wall Street” to name a couple more), so anything he does is held to a highly elevated artistic standard. “Savages” simply does not reach that high (pun intended). At one point, our trio compares themselves to the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" — which was a much better film with far better leading actors (Paul Newman and Robert Redford). But in the end, this movie is what it is: an entertaining and fun escape from reality ... and isn’t that part of what going to the movies is all about?  

The Date Nighter Says: It's a toss-up. You won't be wowed, but you won't regret it either. At the end of the day, it’s really a love story … just with a very bloody and brutal backdrop! That's romantic, right?

Who is The Date Nighter?
The Date Nighter brings a guys perspective on the weekend's hot tickets. Use his reviews to help with the date night movie compromise!