Opening today in the Triangle area:
(Dir. Harmony Korine, 2012)
(Dir. Harmony Korine, 2012)
If you thought James Franco as Oscar Diggs was too family friendly in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (currently the #1 movie in the land), then what about Franco as Alien, a rapper/drug dealer/pimp with cornrows, shining steel teeth, and rich trash beachwear?
That’s how he appears in Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS, the arthouse film that doesn’t look like one, which you might’ve heard something about as it had a record-breaking limited screen debut last weekend (on only two screens, mind you) and has been getting a of buzz.
The hard R-rated film, from the writer/director of GUMMO and TRASH HUMPERS, concerns four college girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine, all bikini-clad for almost the entire film) who rob a restaurant (“we held up the Chicken Shack with squirt guns!”) to get funds so they can go on spring break in St. Pete Beach, Florida. But that’s just the setup, because their world goes completely out of whack when Franco takes them under his wing, after he bails them out when they are arrested on drug charges at a frat boy party.
From the get go, Korine’s film, shot in fleeting beauty by cinematographer Benoît Debie, is all kinetic energy, with no shot lasting more than a matter of seconds; a flashy editing job by Douglas Crise (TRAFFIC, the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies) that often makes the movie look like one big rave. In one of many partying montages, a grainy swirling effect has the imagery merge together as if Korine wants you to feel as fucked up as his characters.
It’s a dizzying display of debauchery, but that makes it sound like a lot more fun than it is.
Ominous overtones provided by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack, and the prospect of Gomez’s religious guilt coming to the surface (her character is actually named Faith), indicate heavily that there’s something sinister underneath all of this, but since this is supposed to be Korine’s ode to the hedonistic pleasures he felt like he missed when growing up, I only took away from it that there's some crazy danger out in the sun-drenched sleaze so beware, kids! Any sense of sharp satire or sobering statement of any kind was lost on me.
After shedding some tears and expressing that she’s not on board following the Franco path, Gomez gets on a bus and leaves the movie. This is unfortunate because she was the only girl who made much of an impression – I can’t remember what the other’s names were). Rachel Korine (wife of the director) also leaves after getting shot in the arm by one of Franco’s competitor’s (the suavely menacing Gucci Mane) thugs.
Hudgens and Benson stay on to join Franco in his life of crime, ripping off other spring breakers, and planning a ambush a la SCARFACE (which Franco boasts his crib’s entertainment system plays nonstop) of his rival’s seaside fortress in revenge for their wounded friend.
Franco convincingly inhabits the persona of Alien, particularly when he’s spouting out his philosophies as if he’s being interviewed on MTV or tenderly singing a Britney Spears ballad (“Everytime”) on his lavish white poolside piano, but the movie’s cut-up confines keep his performance from being truly electrifying (it does comes close though in a shot of him giving fellatio to two gun barrels at once).
Korine’s work here isn’t a matter of style over substance, it’s more a matter of style of substance abuse that gets pounded into our heads with every techno beat, instance of in-your-face sexuality, and moment of stupid behavior we witness.
The repetition throughout of Gomez’s voice-over recitation of a letter to her Grandmother about the trip before things get crazy dangerous (“It's the most spiritual place on earth,” “I want to come back here next year with you!”), doesn’t seem to have a discernible point either, unless it’s just to stress naivety on her part.
The soulless eye-candy (hey, I think one of the girl’s names is Candy!) of SPRING BREAKERS skirts the surface of what a terrifying provocative film about thrill-seeking teenagers going too far could really be. But it seems content though with its day-glo, neon-lit, tawdry surface, so movie-goers prone to empty-headed partying may be content with it too. You know, the kids who’d smuggle a beer bong into the theater if they could. Those are the ones who’ll really love it.