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Reviews: 'Savages,' 'Magic Mike' 

SAVAGES

*1/2

Ridley Scott never cared for it. Neither, for that matter, did Harrison Ford. It was the studio that insisted on the voice-over narration by Ford's character in Blade Runner, as a way to help connect the storyline's knotty dots. To this day, that voice-over remains a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for the film's devotees (count me among the cheerleaders, finding Ford's weary drone adding significantly to the future noir atmosphere). It's doubtful such similar disagreement will surround the v.o. in director Oliver Stone's Savages, as I imagine everyone will hate the incessant blabber that clogs up the soundtrack like so much hair coagulating deep down the shower drain.

The narrator of this nitwit claptrap is Ophelia (Blake Lively), who long ago shortened her name to O to avoid comparisons to Shakespeare's tragic heroine. Not coming across as particularly well-read, O doubtless did not realize that she now shared her name with the title character from Anne Desclos' controversial Histoire d'O (The Story of O), the erotic tale about sadomasochism. This new designation makes more sense, however, since Savages' characters practice sadism in their dealings with one another while viewers have to be masochistic to sit through this torturous affair.

Taylor "Kiss of Death" Kitsch, the star of the 2012 mega-bombs John Carter and Battleship, snags top billing but is only part of a large ensemble, meaning any potential fallout from this potential flop won't further damage his already precarious A-list standing. He and Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson play Chon and Ben, two California dudes responsible for cultivating the best marijuana in the entire world. Their wacky weed is so awesome, in fact, that a Mexican drug kingpin - uh, queenpin? - named Elena (Salma Hayek) insists on merging their operations, a proposal the boys shoot down. This displeases Elena, so she sends her top enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to kidnap the boys' shared lady love, O, in an effort to force them to cooperate.

O no! How will the bad-ass Chon manage to chill long enough to formulate a sensible plan? How will the Buddha-spouting, go-green Ben be able to channel Rambo long enough to kill when necessary? How does Demian Bichir, an Oscar nominee this year for A Better Life, feel about going from playing an undocumented worker full of dignity and grace to essaying the role of a slimy lawyer whose torture scene reduces him to looking like Sloth from The Goonies? And, most importantly, when did John Travolta's noggin take the shape of a bowling ball?

Yes, Travolta's in this turkey, as a cheerfully corrupt DEA agent playing both sides. He's far more engaging than the three youthful leads, as are Hayek and Del Toro (even if the latter's character comes off as a poor man's Anton Chigurh). The talented Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk) has a small part as a manic associate of Ben and Chon, and it's a shame he wasn't cast in one of the leading roles, as he would have provided some much-needed energy.

Savages is based on the novel by Don Winslow, who co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno. It should be noted that no less than Michael Bay once called Salerno's work on the script for Armageddon "brilliant."

Coming from a filmmaker like Bay, that's mighty worthless praise indeed. At any rate, not having read Winslow's novel, it's difficult to ascertain who deserves the lion's share of the blame for not only the atrocious cop-out ending that left the preview audience groaning (and, remember, these recipients of free movie passes generally like everything) but also the ghastly dialogue that dogs the picture every time O feels the need to share her inner monologues. Viewer agony begins right near the start, as she describes her boffing sessions with the battle-scarred Chon: "I had orgasms; he had ‘wargasms.'"

Yow. Haven't Writers Guild of America memberships been revoked for less?

MAGIC MIKE

**1/2

Less of a Saturday Night Fever and more of a Friday evening shrug, Magic Mike follows the template of that John Travolta disco tale by starting off as a bright movie full of dance moves and music before turning into something decidedly darker.

Channing Tatum, working from a screenplay that was loosely based on his own days as an exotic dancer, stars as Mike, the hottest male stripper working at a joint owned by the silky-smooth Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Mike dreams of one day opening his own custom-furniture shop, but for now, he's content doing the bump-and-grind, along the way pegging 19-year-old slacker Adam (Alex Pettyfer) as a natural for this line of work. Adam is nicknamed "The Kid," although thankfully nobody ever utters that age-old adage, "You're going out there a kid, but you're coming back a star!"

Yet a star is precisely what Adam becomes, which leads to the expected second-half hardships focusing on his plunges into drug use and casual sex. Yet because Adam was a zero from the moment we met him, this descent into debauchery doesn't reflect any significant character change, and it's hard to get worked up over his fate.

Far more interesting is Mike and his relationships with those around him (including Adam's sister, nicely played by Cody Horn). And even more interesting would have been a deeper analysis of the exotic-dancer business, such as why male strippers are generally viewed by the population at large as fun-loving party guys while female strippers are often tagged in more tragic (and puritanical) terms. But Magic Mike has no time for such complexities: It's only here to take your money, offer some slick entertainment, and clear the room before the next show.

 

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