By Gary Dowell
The art house equivalent of a Girls Gone Wild video, bad-boy auteur Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers offers a mock-morality tale disguised edgy nihilism, but only after he hobbles it with an anemic narrative and mind-numbing repetition.
That it’s generated as much pre-release buzz as it has is due to its two gimmicks: James Franco’s performance as a Svengali-esque gangsta/wannabe rapper (more on that below), and the casting of former Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as two of a quartet of college girls who run amok during Spring Break in Florida — and then some.
Gomez plays the devout Faith, who hangs back when her friends Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (the director’s wife Rachel Korine) don ski masks and rob an all-night diner to finance their trip to St. Petersburg. She has no such hesitations about tagging along for the sun-, booze-, and drug-soaked beach party, which inevitably lands the four of them in jail within 24 hours.
Enter Alien (Franco), a leering, skeezy drug dealer and aspiring rapper (for lack of a better word) who bails them out and immediately sets them up in his beachfront mansion (replete with a pool, piano, and Scarface on an endless loop). Faith is so freaked out that she boards a bus for home; the rest of the group are more than willing to join Alien in a drug-fueled crime spree.
Korine handled somewhat similar material to great effect with his raw and revealing screenwriting debut Kids (1995); just 22 at the time, he was more in tune with his wayward teen subjects, and the move was a bucket of ice water over the heads of many an unsuspecting parent. Here, he relies on a queasy mixture of over-the-top hedonism and violence, pretenious stylistic excess, and crass exploitation. The movie drags through a slow build-up before hurtling through a rushed second half, and repetitious dialogue and editing mires the whole thing in mind-numbing tedium.
If there is an upside to the movie, it’s that Franco’s performance rinses away the bitter aftertaste of smugness from his smirking turn in Oz the Great and Powerful. “Alien” is the perfect moniker for his character, a self-styled hoodlum who is not of this earth, decked out in cornrows, gold teeth, and tattoos. A scene in which he serenades the girls with Britney Spears’ “Everytime” while they dance around him decked out in pink ski masks and automatic weapons borders on brilliantly surreal.
Alas, the rest of the movie borders on monotony.