No animals were harmed during the making of Spring Breakers. But plenty of impressionable young and older minds will assuredly experience feelings of disorientation watching writer-director Harmony Korine’s candy-colored clown of a movie, which starts out like a salacious, rump-centric and blithely bare-breasted hip-hop video and ends up in the realm of scary and inspired trash.
That’s not meant negatively. Korine is a resolute sleaze monger, whose nightmarish daydreams include Trash Humpers, along with the script of Larry Clark’s specious Kids. He cares little for directorial impulse control. Half the time he doesn’t know if and when he’s kidding and when he’s serious. All this helps Spring Breakers, however, in which not-so-innocent debauchery turns sociopathic on a dime.
It’s about four teenage Southern college girls, three nasty, one nice. The nice one, a good Christian believer, is played by Selena Gomez. The others, her spring break traveling companions, are played by Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine, the director’s wife. Determined to have a memorable vacation, the girls lack hotel and booze money (also cocaine money and marijuana money), and in a beautiful glide-by tracking sequence, we’re shown how they obtain the needed cash. It’s a restaurant robbery, and from the camera’s exterior perspective, the girls’ fake-pistol-waving attacks on the customers look felonious but not vicious. Later, however, Spring Breakers returns to the same sequence, this time inside the diner with the customers. And it’s not the same story.
Director Korine plays this entire lark right down the middle. It’s the old story in Korine’s script: The girls tell themselves they’re acting as if they’re in a movie, and like natural-born killers they’re simply playing the roles of the hell-raisers on parade amid a Florida packed with gleaming flesh. Sprung from a night in jail for crimes unrelated to the robbery, Brit, Faith, Candy and Cotty owe their bailout to the predatory goodwill of a gangsta rappa named Alien. He is played by James Franco, currently on a very different set of movie screens in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Those who write off Franco as a limited, one-note actor need to see Spring Breakers. He’s smooth, funny, sinister and alive every second in this strange riff on Where the Boys Are. The film is worth seeing simply for the montage in which this self-made playa displays to his latest prey all the great stuff he owns, from nunchucks to pistols to cunning home furnishings.
As he has in past works, Korine pushes and pulls the episodes of his films this way and that, repeating incidents, foreshadowing others. The character Alien appears to have been weaned on a steady viewing diet of Wild Things; he lives his tricked-out life like a perverted Gulf Coast version of Puck.
Korine has become a very interesting filmmaker with Spring Breakers. He samples every sort of music-video trick and change-up, yet the referencing works. The Gomez character provides the necessary outsider’s shock and awe; most everything else about Korine’s inversion of an entire genre risks excess, and then a surfeit of excess, followed by an excessive surfeit of excess. It’s a beach-party movie that morphs into a Scarface remake, this time without Pacino. And with an even less reliable moral compass.
Spring Breakers (R) ★★★☆☆