Spring Breakers. Shaming you for watching.

spring-breakers-posters-3“Of course it’s stupid and aimless! It’s suppose to be. It’s about stupid and aimless people, and it’s just reflecting the inanity of their lifestyle!”

That seems to be the argument for a lot of the people who like Spring Breakers, the latest from artless “provocateur” Harmony Korine. This movie displays a better sense of craft than his previous freak shows and a little more commercial appeal (young, hot bodies in various states of undress… not exactly a stretch), but it still showcases his need to be above it all, his need to be “better” than his audience. “I’ll stick your faces in the muck because that’s what you want to see, but then I’ll criticize and mock you for wanting to see the muck in the first place!”

Spring Breakers is about four young women who, lacking the funds to travel to South Florida for spring break, rob a restaurant in order to procure the funds they lack. Once they get there, they drink and party and blah blah blah. But they get arrested, and then get bailed out by a rapper/wannabe gangster, after which violence ensues and people die and, for those who don’t, spring break continues ad infinitum. And that’s about it. It’s about the fine line between hedonism and nihilism and how easy it is to confuse one from the other.

The four women, played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine, are all pretty vapid. The only one who isn’t completely interchangeable from the others is Gomez, because A) she’s a young Christian who sees the trouble that lies ahead (and she was the only one not involved in the aforementioned robbery) and B) she’s the only brunette. The other three are varying degrees of dirty blonde and are the most seduced by the charisma of the rapper Alien (yes, Alien), played by James Franco.

Franco is the best thing about Spring Breakers, but he’s also an example of what’s wrong with it. He’s having a blast playing this really gross character. You can see he’s having so much fun wallowing in the ignorance and bad taste of this wannabe Scarface. And he’s a lot of fun to watch; the movie’s energy picks up when Alien’s exploits become the focus of the movie.

But here’s my problem. You can see Franco “playing” Alien. He never seems truly invested in exploring what makes him tick. And, while entertaining, it’s as if Franco is always winking at us from under his cornrows and gold grills and saying “you know, this isn’t really who I am” while all of us are supposed to shower him with accolades on how well he plumed the scuzzy depths to play this creature.

And that’s how writer-director Harmony Korine approaches this material as well. Yes, there are a couple of sequences that he gets right. One is the robbery, shown from the point of view of the getaway driver. As she slowly circles the outside of the restaurant once the robbery begins, we can see the action through the windows for brief moments as it proceeds, and it’s a clever way to stage the sequence. Another is a montage that begins with Alien, sitting at his piano by the pool, and the ladies singing Britney Spears’ Everytime, which then segues into the actual Spears track while showing slow motion images of Alien and the ladies rob and beat and pummel various groups of people as they make their rise through the local criminal ranks. The sequence is so out of the blue that you can’t help but be amused by its utter ridiculous-ness.

But for most of the movie, Korine is content to show endless shots of drunk young men and drunk, naked young women in hedonistic ecstasy, and all the while transitioning between scenes with the sound of a shotgun being cocked and readied to fire. We get this audio cue after almost every scene. Yes, I get it! This is awful and repugnant behavior and look what it leads to! If you’re going to make an exploitation movie, then be honest and make one. Don’t keep telling us how stupid we are for actually sitting through it.

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