So, we’ve finally discovered what it takes for Harmony Korine to go mainstream — a couple of established stars, a little T&A, and hey! — he’s in the club. Hell, he can even manage to get himself invited onto Letterman outta the deal — although apparently he can’t stick around for long. Still, the fact remains — long (hell, decades) after you’d given up on the very notion it would ever happen, Hollywood has opened its doors to the guy who gave us Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Trash Humpers. And truth be told, he didn’t have to dumb down his sensibilities all that much in the process.
Okay, yeah — Spring Breakers is full of Girls Gone Wild-type footage of hot young flesh parading around in bikinis (or less), muscle-heads partying in jock straps, beer bongs being poured on impossibly tight stomachs, impromptu lesbian make-out sessions, yadda yadda yadda. But it’s piled on so thick and so repetitiously that there’s no way Korine can possibly be engaging in anything but parody of the Bacchanalian subculture he’s depicting. The film never takes itself too seriously, even when it ventures into some pretty dark territory, and it seems to me that our guy Harmony is sending a none-too-sly message to the Tinseltown suits who previously wouldn’t have touched his work with a 50-foot pole : “this is what you want? Okay. But we’re doing it my way.”
And frankly, that “way” hasn’t changed much — the ultra-naturalistic hand-held camerawork, hallucinatory pacing and editing, and free-from improvisation (as usual, the story per se here doesn’t seem to follow any set “script” as you or I understand the term and appears mostly to consist of the actors getting into character and then ad-libbing from there) of his earlier efforts remains, and the end result is more akin to a series of “found footage” snippets pieced together pretty haphazardly than anything else. The setting may be different this time around, but the basic Korine modus operandi is essentially the same.
In short, if you’ve been following this guy’s career over the course of the pas couple of decades, you’ll only think you’re getting into something different with Spring Breakers, but by the time Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” plays over the end credits, there’s no doubt that this work fits in very comfortably with the rest of his directorial oeuvre. Think Trash Humpers in bikinis, or Gummo with “hotties” rather than genetic rejects, and you won’t be too far off thSo, here’s the deal — four friends (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife, Rachel) at a piece of shit college in piece of shit Kentucky are bored out of their minds and want to go down to St. Pete to live it up over Spring Break. There’s just one problem — they don’t have enough money. In order to alleviate that situation, three of them (Gomez’s character — named, appropriately enough, Faith — a devoutly religious young woman most of the time sits it out) decide to pull a heist at a local fast-food chicken stand using those purportedly realistic-looking squirt guns the cops are always telling us fooled ’em whenever they shoot some poor kid who was holding one dead. They get away with it and head down for a week of sun, fun, sex, booze, and drugs — but they don’t get away with that, because they’re busted at a party that gets out of hand. Don’t fret too much, though, friends, as they aren’t forced to cool their heels in jail for very long. A local dope dealer/wannabe-rapper who goes by the handle of Alien (James Franco, doing his best impression of Gary Oldman in True Romance , just substitute hip-hop for reggae) takes a liking to them when he sees them in court and bails ’em out en masse. Does he have ulterior motives? Of course, and watching him use pimp-like “turning out” psychological manipulation on the ladies in order to seduce them into into being hench-women in his pot-selling-and-armed-robbery enterprise (his only other “employees” are two identical twin brothers that Korine taps from the low end of that gene pool he’s always wading in ) is both creepy and cool at the same time.
That being said, Alien’s not a one-dimensional character (even though most of the girls, frankly, are) and he does seem to develop a genuine emotional bond with his new recruits. Faith doesn’t fall for his shtick and hops a bus home, but the rest are in. And that, of course, is where the troubles really begin.
Korine follows a pretty delicate balancing act the rest of the way — he eschews standard “don’t aim higher than your station in life or it’ll end in tears” morality-play-style sermonizing even though the material could be played that way pretty easily, while simultaneously upping the ante on the over-the-top-ness of it all in a manner so sly that you almost don’t even notice that it’s happening. The ladies get Alien to fellate a gun silencer and it feels perfectly natural, fer cryin’ out loud! But what the hell, they all appeared before the judge in nothing but their bikinis a few short scenes ago, so anything goes here, right?
The final shoot-’em-up at the end, at which point another of the former-foursome has made her way northward after taking a bullet in the arm, does in fact strain credulity a bit, but by then the ethos of the film —in short, presenting the blatantly absurd in the most free-form, unforced manner possible — is so firmly established that, even if you don’t exactly buy it, you don’t mind it. The flick’s firing on all its admittedly warped cylinders, and your choices are either go with the flow or pull your hair out. Since I don’t have all that much hair left, the decision is a pretty simple one.
I suppose, at the end of the day, there will be those who go into this thing for no other reason than to see three-and four-way sex or former “Disney Girls” gone bad. If that’s your thing, fair enough — but I have to warn you, if that’s what put your butt in the seat, you’re destined to head for the exits scratching your head, even though the film delivers everything you want to see in even more ample proportion than you’d probably been expecting. The rest of us? We’ll have thoroughly enjoyed a movie that’s never as stupid as it pretends to be.