The not so fine line between satirizing and wallowing in excessive tits, ass and gunplay informs the wannabe provocation Spring Breakers, about four teenaged bimbos conquering South Florida in a hail of hedonism, or something like that.
Written and directed by Harmony Korine (Gummo, screenwriter of Kids) as some sort of demented take on excess and the American Dream, this beautifully shot vision of cheesecake in and out of bikinis, drinking and snorting and cavorting like there’s no tomorrow, a veritable fever dream mash-up of Where the Boys Are and Scarface, adds up to little more than a vacuous style show. But what style it is, courtesy of the film’s real star, gifted French DP Benoît Debie (the famed cinematographer behind Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible and Enter the Void), who elevates the trash to near-art.
Spring Breakers gives us babes in hot clothes striking sexy poses, and that’s enjoyable, for awhile, until the monotony of gigantic, fake boobs shot in jiggling slow-mo during repetitive partying sequences (we got it, already) replace actual character development.
What’s a good Christian college girl to do when she’s broke and everyone else is heading out to St. Petersburg for Spring Break? Bible schooled Faith (Selena Gomez) and bad girl buddies Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) hatch a plan for cash by robbing the local diner (in an expertly directed sequence).
It works, and soon the conscience-free scammers, who fancy themselves some kind of badass posse, descend upon the festivities and quickly indulge in the usual excesses, which here include naked beach parties, naked pool parties, naked hotel room parties, rinse, repeat—I could go on, but suffice to say it plays like girls gone apeshit, just as predatory as the meatheaded frat guys pouring booze down their throats in a haze of near date-rapes, blackouts and bodies.
The party almost ends when the girls are arrested and thrown in jail. But the film’s masterstroke is a loopy, inspired performance by the great James Franco (is there anything he can’t do?) as Alien, a thuggish, legend-in-his-mind drug and arms dealer/rapper involved in a turf war and who springs the girls from the pen for a price, taking them under his tutelage and setting up a wildly contrived (but hey, this is Spring Breakers dude, so anything goes) harem of lady gangstas who prance around in bikinis with very large artillery while dancing to Britney Spears on a sunset beach—all while cornrowed, gold-toothed Alien covers the pop star’s Everytime on his ivory patio piano. You can’t make this up—but Korine did.
Faith (get it?) gets cold feet and hitches the first bus home, but her trio of girlfriends go deeper with Alien, who fancies them his dream girls—but is it they who are really playing him? Or will they have his back during the inevitable showdown with rival dealer Archie (Gucci Mane)? Will the girls, graduating from toy guns to loaded firearms, have the guts to pull actual triggers? Who will be next on the bus home? And most importantly, who will be left for the movie’s piece de resistance, a three-way sex scene in Alien’s backyard pool?
Korine strings the picture together with multiple montages, voiceovers and sequences that play with time passage to disorienting effect—most of the time you won’t know if you’re watching reality, a dream or a nightmare. And in his screenplay, the filmmaker seems to be getting at themes of power, narcissism and a depiction of rampant sexual and violent poseur behavior appropriated by reckless youth off a cliff of garbage mores; a cultural youth crisis. Or maybe not. But Spring Breakers does this only half-heartedly by populating the picture with vapid zombies lacking any trace of depth. Consequently, instead of being engaged, we are largely repulsed. Perhaps that’s the point, but that calculation makes it hard to care.
And then Spring Breakers explodes in the film’s lusciously shot final sequence, a late-night, beach house raid of bodies scantily clad in colors that glow like electric fish against black water, stalking their prey, a vision of nihilism and beauty, high titillation and post-feminist girl power rolled into the same skimpy two-piece.
Ultimately, I didn’t buy most of what Spring Breakers was selling and found its commentary labored and characters interchangeable. But there is no denying its effectiveness as an exercise in visual and aural sophistication, every frame drenched in the candied shimmer of pastel string bikinis, flickering neon road signs and molten lava sunsets. To say Spring Breakers is a hypnotic experience is an understatement—it practically writhes off the screen courtesy Debie’s stylized camera and composer Cliff Martinez’ evocative soundtrack, nearly as impressive as his work on 2011’s Drive.
There’s a perverse fascination in watching Gomez and Hutchens go balls-out in this rite of passage picture about Spring Breakers losing innocence, both actresses doing everything they can here to shed their squeaky-clean Disney images. Well, if this picture doesn’t do that, nothing will.