Short of cash for their Spring Break blowout, Candy (Hudgens) and her girl posse rob a restaurant and head to Florida, where sex, drugs and gangster Alien (Franco) await...
Pitched somewhere between art installation, sexploitation and MTV Pool Party Gone Bad, Spring Breakers wears its controversy on its fluorescent thong — an abstract, deliberately monotonous extreme teen movie that, nonetheless, fizzes with a hypnotic charge. It’s also, by a considerable stretch, Harmony Korine’s most mainstream feature to date, capturing a college girls’ debauched break in hot, gruesome, grinding detail. The soundtrack’s fantastic. Korine’s ear for slurry improv adds a fresh, authentic kick. But boy, is it empty behind the eyes.
It’s tempting to see this as Korine’s 21st-century Kids, relocated to neon Florida, the ground zero of America’s wasted youth. For former Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, it’s a chance to trash their prom gowns and engage in simulated drug abuse and slippery threesomes, although the characters are as thin as their bikini strings. Only Gomez’ Faith seems to truly register, struggling to consolidate the debauchery with her church girl roots.
What we are treated to is another pungent weird-out from James Franco, going the full Drexl as Alien, a cornrowed gangsta drooling through a harmonica of silver teeth. He watches Scarface on “re-peat”. He has a piano by the pool. He’s a grotesque, corrupt hip-hop caricature. The girls, naturally, see him as a life coach.
Throughout, Korine sends a warning shot of things to come by repeatedly closing the film’s leering, slo-mo party scenes with the slinky clunk-click of a loaded gun. Given the film’s eerie undertow, it’s no surprise that the hedonism turns eventually into nihilism, a last-act mutation into an avante-garde Miami Vice episode, with its shotguns, speedboats and rioting grrls in pink balaclavas.
Shot in alluring electric blues and radioactive oranges, juiced on a pounding Skrillex score, Spring Breakers’ world is alive, intoxicating and utterly immersive — but that shouldn’t be mistaken for depth. A spork has more depth than Spring Breakers. Korine puts the same idea on loop — the American Dream warped by self-gratification — and leaves it to spin on the surface. You head home buzzing on empty, in the grip of a hollow high.
A lurid, luminous teen-bender movie, as ludicrous as it is stylish, and Harmony Korines best film in years.