This Mexican drug cartel/Southern California pot growing movie opens with a brutal scene that hits you in the gut. A number of men are kneeling in a random building, a look of resignation in their eyes. A person has a chain saw and you know what is going to happen next. Luckily for all of us, the scene cuts without us having to witness the gruesome ending. In the sick world of the Mexican drug cartel, the murders are videotaped and sent to two pot growers living in Orange County. Due to growing pressures from the Mexican government, Elena’s (Salma Hayek) cartel is shifting operations to Southern California. The reason Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch)attract the attention of the cartel is due to the unique high-end pot that they grow. Ben is the brains and Chon is the muscle. Added into the duo is O (Blake Lively) who is mutually loved by both men.
Elena’s underlings meet with Ben and Chon and give them 24 hours to come to a decision on the proposed partnership. After much debate, the two decide to flee to Indonesia. One of the cartel lieutenants, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), grows suspicious and comes to the conclusion that they’re about to flee the U.S. In order to keep them in line, O is kidnapped. Ben and Chon are told that O will be kept as a hostage for a year. The two go about trying to find a way to get her back. Tossed into the storyline is a U.S.federal agent named Dennis (John Travolta) who plays off both the Mexican cartel and the two pot growers.
The young cast of Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively do a fine job. I’m sure Taylor Kitsch (John Carter/Battleship) and Blake Lively(Gossip Girl/Green Lantern) were more than happy to take on these dramatic roles. As for the more “mature” cast that includes Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta, I just couldn’t help but feel that at certain points in the movie they enjoyed playing campy with their characters.
The movie does give you an interesting look into the drug world. Immediately, we are presented with the fact that Ben believes in using the profits from their pot business to do good in Africa. There is a degree of hypocrisy here. Yes, Ben is helping people in Africa and keeping his hands clean in his pot business, but Chon is his muscle. They are the Mexican cartel, but just on a smaller scale, using less violent means to enforce their rules. The movie also delves into the role of the cartel lieutenants. The most intriguing of the lieutenants is Lado who is both looking out for Elena and his own future. In the U.S., we see how drug money is already impacting law enforcement. The U.S. federal agent,Dennis, is as dirty as they come or perhaps is just a political realist who is attempting to keep the cartel violence in the U.S. to a minimum while padding his own pockets. We also get a glimpse of what I assume was a dirty U.S.cop, paid off by the cartel. Another intrigue that plays a role in the movie is that there are two Mexican cartels attempting to penetrate the U.S. The movie focuses in on Elena, but in the background there is another cartel ready to jump in and take advantage of any potential missteps.
This movie starts off with promise, but then falls off a cliff. The problem isn’t how it first probes the drug wars and then shifts into a gritty chess match. The movie is about rescuing O from the hands of the cartel so we should expect to see cars get blown up. The problem is that Oliver Stone shifts the style of his movie at the end. It goes from gritty to surreal and it isn’t appreciated. This movie is based on a book and so perhaps the ending is faithful to the book, but if so the translation to the big screen failed.