Amidst a story overstuffed with characters and a plot that struggles admirably to keep track of them all, the least complicated element is the central love triangle. That would be because Laguna Beach pot czars Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are perfectly happy sharing the lovely Ophelia, and the feeling is mutual.
The trouble is that not everyone is as enamoured by the two entrepreneurs. Elena (Salma Hayek) is the head of a Mexican drug cartel that seeks to gain their expertise and network at any cost. She enlists her top underling, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to grease the wheels by kidnapping their beloved O, as they call her.
But wait, there's so much more. John Travolta as a crooked DEA agent, Emile Hirsch as a hyper-efficient money launderer and there is a seemingly endless string of background characters that are quickly established, if only to be unceremoniously dispatched later on.
The movie spins its wheels trying to keep all of this engaging, but ends up predictably uneven as a result. Especially troubling are scenes of the captive O becoming increasingly unimpressed by her treatment, leading to demands of better food and, of course, some weed to help her "take the edge off" being kidnapped. That they acquiesce to these stipulations is even more stupefying.
Only Del Toro and Travolta imbue their characters with any vitality – the former finding an intriguing amount of duplicity as the menacing henchman, while the latter plays against type with his beleaguered federal agent, accessing amusing notes of exasperation beneath the façade of power.
There is a pervasive sense that the material is beneath a director like Stone, and the nagging question remains of what attracted him to the Don Winslow novel that served as the basis for the film. One can only hope that he will return to tackling more difficult projects in the future and leave this kind of fare to promising music video directors. (Universal)