This is enfant terrible Harmony Korine’s most accessible movie yet. But accessing it proves to be a pretty awful experience. “Spring Breakers” combines a demented, soft-core porn “Beach Party” vibe with the hyperkinetic, neon-lit violence of a picture like Oliver Stone’s “The Savages,” and the mixture is toxic. Garish, goofy, leering and nasty, it’s meant to be hypnotic, but winds up nearly unwatchable, although some will doubtlessly read it as ironic satire and deem it a wacked-out masterpiece.
The plot’s extraordinarily simple. Four hot but impecunious college coeds—Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty ( Rachel Korine), along with their mousy chum Faith (Selena Gomez)—rob a restaurant to get the cash to go to the Florida coast for spring break. Once there they overdo things and get arrested. But they’re bailed out of jail by a sleazy would-be gangsta (James Franco) who calls himself Alien and enlists them in his sexual escapades and criminal enterprises. Unhappily that puts them in the crosshairs of Alien’s old chum, street kingpin Archie (Gucci Mane).
By this time Faith has departed for home, and another leaves after being wounded in a drive-by. The remaining two join Alien in an assault on Archie’s mansion that leaves one of the trio dead but many more of their enemies in the dirt. As Korine might say, fin. What’s the moral of it all? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.
You have to admire the cinematography of Benoit Debie, who gives the widescreen images a combination of grit and blazing brilliance reminiscent of “Miami Vice” (the TV show, not the movie). (He also contributes an impressive tracking shot that shows the robbery through the restaurant windows as the getaway car circles the place.) But his craftsmanship is wasted on endless montages of jiggling bikini-clad behinds, hopping breasts, guys working their members through their swimsuits, and broads sucking away suggestively on popsicles (the red-white-and-blue variety, of course, since the idea is to comment on American excess, one supposes). As if those weren’t enough, there are long scenes of the girls and Alien jumping about in his bedroom while he drones on about his possession s and myriad accomplishments. The expository sequences are handled with visual dexterity, but they’re burdened with Korine’s dismal dialogue, which sounds as though it were invented on the spot by actors totally unfamiliar with the art of improvisation.
Periodically the movie stops in its tracks to accommodate a musical interlude, as when Franco warbles Britney Spears’ “Everytime” to the girls while tinkling the keys on the piano out by his swimming pool. But mostly the soundtrack is just filled with a throbbing score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex, to which are added some pulsating pop tunes.
Franco certainly seems more comfortable playing a sleaze here than he was in the family-friendly “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and Benson, Hudgens and Ms. Korine jiggle and bump with abandon, though not much less. Gomez looks pained pretty much throughout, a feeling many viewers will share. And wrestler Jeff Jarrett shows up as a Christian youth preacher, which really strains credulity to the breaking point.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about “Spring Breakers” is the mantra employed periodically, in which Franco languidly intones “Spring break, spring break, spring break forevah!” To which the proper response might be: “Spring break forevah, but ‘Spring Breakers’ nevah!”