Oliver Stone’s new movie about drug dealers and drug users seems to assume that its audiences may be watching in an altered state of consciousness as well. Stone has never been known for subtlety, but just to make absolutely sure that everyone watching the film knows what is what, he makes a very clear distinction between our heroes and our villains. The good drug dealers are two guys and a girl who live together in an almost Edenic state of polyamorous bliss on Laguna Beach and donate money to African villages. The villains are the bad drug dealers, who chain-saw off the heads of seven people before the opening credits are over and are led by viciously evil Selma Hayek with a hairstyle that makes her look like a demented Veronica from the Archie Comics.
Our narrator cautions us that just because she is telling the story does not mean she is alive at the end of it. O (for Ophelia) is a California girl from a wealthy but dysfunctional family whose primary occupations are shopping and having sex with her two boyfriends. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle, a cynical former military guy. Ben (Aaron Johnson of “Kick-Ass”) is the idealistic botany/business guy. Together, O tells us, they make the perfect boyfriend, and they love each other, too, so it’s just one happy cuddle puddle.
But the very thing that makes them so successful — the exceptional quality of their weed — has made them a threat to the big, bad drug dealers from Mexico. When they make an offer Ben and Chon can’t refuse, Ben and Chon refuse anyway. They are willing to turn over the business but they are not willing to work for Elena (Hayek) and her group. So O gets taken hostage, and if Ben and Chon do not start cooperating, they will chop off her fingers.
When O and Elena have an elegant dinner and O starts prattling on about her failed effort at community college as though she is talking to her parents’ friends at the country club, we get a sense of the grand guignol possibilities of this story, based on novel by Don Winslow, who co-scripted. Hayek’s relish in the role is entertaining and John Travolta has a good turn as a paunchy FBI agent with no illusions. But Benicio de Toro’s portrayal of Elena’s sociopathic henchman is just icky. Stone’s re-re-re-treading of the same issues that have pre-occupied him since he was fighting in Vietnam — drugs, corruption, military, power — is tired. The butchery and dissolution of the bad guys is over the top and the heroes give us no reason to root for them. A final fake-out is an insult to any remaining goodwill left from the audience and the overall preposterousness finally feels like an insult.
Parents should know that this film has extremely graphic and disturbing violence including torture and rape, explicit sexual situations, nudity, drinking, smoking, extended drug use (marijuana and cocaine) and drug dealing, very strong language
Family discussion: Why do the different characters refer to each other as savages? Do you agree with the definition used at the end? What kept O, John, and Ben together?
If you like this, try: “American Gangster” and “Blow”