Oliver Stone takes a stab at returning to a nastier, more edgy filmmaking style, but simply can't escape his moralising ways. Indeed, this film looks great, with whizzy camerawork and kinetic editing, and a willingness to travel to some very dark places. So it's even more annoying that it's all such a cop out. Not only are the plot and characters undermined by half-hearted preachiness, but the film has an appallingly trite voice-over narration plus a climactic plot point that feels like a cheat.
The story opens with a scene of domestic bliss, as sexy beach babe O (Lively) cuddles with her hunky ex-military boyfriend Chon (Kitsch) in their spectacular seaside home in Orange County. Then Ben (Taylor) arrives home - he's Chon's best friend and O's other boyfriend, a tree-hugging scientist who has created the perfect marijuana plant. They've made their fortune as local drug dealers, and now a Mexican cartel wants in on the action. They're visited by a goon (Bichir) who makes them an offer they can't refuse. So when they Chon and Ben say no, the cartel henchman Lado (Del Toro) kidnaps O to whip boys in line. But they go into action mode instead. Calling the shots is cartel boss Elena (Hayek). And there's also a Federal agent (Travolta) working everyone against each other.
The plot has promise, and the film starts well, with sun-drenched photography and some strong character-establishing scenes with Kitsch, Johnson and Lively. But once we learn each one's main trait (Chon's tough tenacity, Ben's peace-loving passion and O's annoying stupidity), the script abandons them completely. We never have a clue why Chon and Ben would fall for O, let alone risk their lives to rescue her. We never know why Lado is such a cold-hearted brute. And we can't understand how Travolta's character has survived this long. The only person we enjoy watching is the scene-chewing Hayek, who seems to be the only actor having any fun.
Worse than the terrible script is how Stone tries to moralise about violence and drugs in ways that actually undermine the plot. Honestly, it's difficult to make us sympathise with characters who are drug users and dealers when the filmmaker keeps making quietly judgmental statements. He also seems terrified of the three-way relationship, shying away from sex and completely ignoring the most interesting thing in the story: the bromance between Chon and Ben. Even if the movie looks cool, it feels so fake and bungled that we don't care about anything or anyone.
Run time: 131 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th July 2012
Box Office USA: $47.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $47M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Relativity Media, Ixtlan, Onda Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 92 Rotten: 89
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenwriter: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively as O, Taylor Kitsch as Chon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ben, Benicio del Toro as Lado, Salma Hayek as Elena, John Travolta as Dennis, Demián Bichir as Alex, Emile Hirsch as Spin, Mía Maestro as Dolores, Diego Cataño as Esteban, Joaquín Cosio as El Azul, Sandra Echeverría as Magda, Antonio Jaramillo as Jaime, Ali Wong as Claire, Trevor Donovan as Matt / Magda's Boyfriend
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