Revenge movies that rely on romantic glue for traction need a gimmick to make it through two hours. In this drug war ditty, that gimmick is a blonde who plays siren to two drug-dealing white boys, one of them an Afghan vet, who predictably get themselves — and said blonde — into big trouble with a Mexico cartel led by a brunette and her henchmen (Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro).
Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are nice guy So-Cal weed sellers who, 1960s Hippie style, “share” bombshell named, gulp, Ophilia O. Sage (Blake Lively). She’s an upscale rich girl who mesmerizes her two paramours for reasons unknown. But when O is abducted by the vexed cartel — Del Toro’s Lado carrying out the bidding of Hayek’s Elena — the drug Boy Scouts go into girlfriend-protection mode. Each side believes the other represents the worst in humankind, hence savages-vs. -savages.
Stone’s pacing is fine, with flesh, gore and blow-ups as lubricant. Until, that is, both film and plot wear thin, which is about halfway in. After which Stone turns his attention to buddy-bonding (tough guy Chon and wannabe Ben) and improbable girl-ties (tormentor Elena vs. captive O). Grinning Lado reeks of Quentin Taratino caricature, something Del Toro makes no attempt to hide. Parody, read rigor, sets in. Genre-wise, call it a buddy-catfight-narco-spaghetti western. Maybe a first.
Hayek and Lively do their pretty parts, particularly the former; Del Toro is suitably villainous; and the north-of-the-border/south-of-the-border cultural divide gets its moments (with John Travolta thrown in as a two-timing DEA agent). Ultimately, though, Stone’s only dramatic weapon is his ménage à trios, which he uses to double up on male loyalty. He also throws in a ludicrous twin-edged ending, which only adds to runtime that might have been cut by a third.