Spring Breakers cannily casts a couple of former Disney princesses as bikini-clad nymphets who break the law in their fight for the right to party.
For that reason alone, filmmaker/provocateur Harmony Korine already has a hit on his hands. In limited release, the movie has grossed about three times its $2 million budget to date.
One shouldn't begrudge this. Now 40, Korine has apparently lost none of the defiant spirit that put him on the cultural radar as the youthful director of anti-pop films such as Gummo and Mister Lonely. Evidently, Disney vets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens saw Korine's art house oeuvre as a key to their own spectacular departures from the realm of Wizards of Waverly Place and High School Musical.
So call it a win-win for ex-Disney princesses, Korine, and Girls Gone Wild enthusiasts.
But is Spring Breakers a win for anyone ponying up the dough for a movie ticket? Not so much.
The annual sex-drugs-beer bacchanal of the American college student is the springboard by which Korine does a flying tumble through a pretty grim landscape, bare breasts and shaking booties notwithstanding. In St. Petersburg, Fla., the sex is animalistic and degrading, the air pings with the threat of violence, and a culture of instant self-gratification is mistaken for something spiritual.
At least for a couple of weeks a year.
So it is for a quartet of college students played by Gomez, Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine. I won't bother with the names of all their characters. Except for Gomez's Faith, a good Christian girl too easily submitting in a battle against temptation, all the other young women are interchangeably vapid.
The gals are initially stymied in their plans to leave their college existence to go to Florida. So three of them stage a robbery in a diner to get the necessary funds. To gird themselves for the crime, one advises another: "Pretend it's a movie."
Once in St. Petersburg, the quartet of nubile beauties easily integrate into an atmosphere that can only be described as aggressive hedonism. Inevitably, they end up in jail for some vaguely delineated offence, still wearing their swimsuits as in some cheesy women-in-prison movie: Bikinis Behind Bars.
But their vacation is rescued by an unlikely saviour called Alien (James Franco), a rapping gangsta in cornrows with a metal grill where his front teeth should be -- a white guy whose bid for an urban black identity feels downright desperate.
Alien posts their bail. No good will come of this.
In the past, the spring break milieu has typically provided a fleshy backdrop for innocuous sex farces along the lines of Where the Boys Are.
Korine uses it to wring out some interesting dynamics pertaining to race, gender and power.
Alas, Korine still aspires to be a kind of American Jean-Luc Godard, which translates into a kind of contempt for bourgeois notions of character and plot. Instead of that, expect a lot of grating sound effects (the slide of an automatic pistol being pulled back) and lines of dialogue repeated ad nauseam.
Franco is the only actor on the screen awarded any kind of back story, an indication that even Korine must deliver a more three-dimensional character once an in-demand actor signs on. Gomez and Hudgens will merely get the consolation prize of a movie that will launch them into a world of more adult roles, albeit not necessarily the adult roles they had in mind.
It's all very interesting, in its sordid way, but it's even more infuriating. With a bit more effort, Korine could have crafted something special.
As it is, well, pretend this is a movie.
Excerpts of select reviews of Spring Breakers:
Franco gives it his all, but, once Korine forsakes his outrageous mood music in the interest of plot -- something about a feud with another drug prince -- the whole endeavour cools and curdles into silliness. Yet the film stands, overall, as one of the director's richer provocations, making our eyes smart and forcing us to ask: Should a movie be so much in league -- or in love -- with a style of life that even a brush with death can look like a dream?
-- Anthony Lane, New Yorker
If Korine thinks he's somehow being ironic, detached or artistic, forget it. Once a year, St. Petersburg, Fla., is awash with thoughtless, unpleasant people making poor decisions. This spring, Korine is one of them.
-- Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post
Korine has cooked up an impressionistic bacchanal of what spring break has become and those who made it that way -- college girls, proving to each other and themselves that they're as bad and promiscuous as any frat boy hip hop.
-- Roger Moore, Movie Nation