The diabolical genius of Harmony Korine is that his films are so cloistered by self-consciousness and movie-movie artifice that all criticisms leveled against them are subject to the Pee-wee Herman Effect: “I meant to do that.” Think Gummo is an unseemly mix of poetry and exploitation? “I meant to do that.” Balk at Trash Humpers’ total disregard for composition, depth, and meaningful connection between one scene and the next? “I meant to do that.” Find Korine’s new film, Spring Breakers, a vacuous, repetitive, hyperbolically stupid fusion of Girls Gone Wild, Scarface, and that lesson-filled after-school special where Helen Hunt snorts crank and jumps out a window? Of course! That’s what so great about it! Surrendering to the Korine paradox has never been more tempting than it is with Spring Breakers, which is lush and exuberant and gives his admittedly brilliant eye its fullest expression to date.
And yet the inanity of it lingers when the sensation starts to dull. True to the Korine spirit of calculated scandal, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens molt the remainder of their squeaky-clean Disney image as two in a quartet of friends (Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine are the others) determined to head from Nowheresville, U.S.A. to Florida for spring break. Lacking the necessary funds, three of them cajole good girl Gomez into knocking off a diner with squirt guns and sledgehammers, and they hightail it down the freeway with their ill-gotten cash. Florida turns out to be every bit the end-of-the-world bacchanal they dreamed it would be, but the cops inevitably round them up and throw them in jail. They find a surprise benefactor in James Franco, a blinged-out gangsta who bails them out and proceeds to get them into deeper trouble.
Resembling a cross between Kevin Federline and Willem Dafoe’s sinister cretin in Wild At Heart, Franco masters the weird semi-improvisational babble that constitutes dialogue in a Harmony Korine film, projecting colorful idiocy and seductive menace in equal measure. (Cinema historians will want to file his “Look at my shit” monologue in the pantheon alongside Henry Fonda’s “I’ll be there” speech in The Grapes Of Wrath.) The sensual overload of Korine’s Day-Glo images of bodies in motion, underlined by the sonic assault of Skrillex’s score, makes Spring Breakers seem transcendent in five-minute bursts. But the overall effect is enervating, like a party that grinds on after most of the attendees have either left or passed out. And much like Kids, the enfant terrible’s breakthrough screenplay, Korine’s film has an unintended moral hysteria, like a warning to parents of what their good girls are doing when they aren’t looking. The message: Keep them locked up. In their bikinis, if necessary.