“Spring Breakers” is a bikini, beer and bong romp in which writer-director Harmony Korine colorfully embraces the silliness of beach-party flicks while simultaneously enhancing and warping the material into something darker, bolder and deranged.
As his four heroines experience wild times in the Sunshine State, Korine’s film, at first, is promising. But by allowing luridness to dominate over story and character, he ultimately dooms the day.
Korine makes films about misfits, fringe-dwellers and people who live pathologically or extremely. Whatever the response to his “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Trash Humpers” (the title doesn’t mislead), his movies have attracted talents such as Chloe Sevigny, Werner Herzog and Samantha Morton.
In terms of accessibility, “Spring Breakers” ranks with Korine’s celebrity-impersonator tale “Mister Lonely” as particularly viewer-friendly. That doesn’t, thankfully, mean that it is conformist or tame.
Churchgoing good girl Faith (Selena Gomez), and blonder and badder Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Brit (Ashley Benson) are bored friends who, lacking spring-break cash, rob a restaurant with faux weapons and head to Florida. A narcotics-filled party lands the bikini-clad quartet in jail.
At their hearing, a metal-toothed rapper and local scoundrel who calls himself Alien (James Franco) likes what he sees. He bails them out, and a visit to his drug- and gun-stocked mansion excites the young women.
Outrageous escapades and a violent showdown with Alien’s gangland rival (Gucci Mane) ensue.
This is more than just standard beach-blanket or girls-gone-wild folly. Combining art, pop and trash, Harmony Korine vibrantly affirms and juicily subverts familiar genre fare. He also, in scenes that bring to mind his screenplay for Larry Clark’s “Kids,” sadly suggests the moral emptiness of some contemporary youth.
Visually, the film, which contains neon hues and imagery with pizazz, is particularly strong. A shot of two of the girls wearing pink ski masks and brandishing serious weaponry is especially memorable.
Franco is an over-the-top hoot as a rascal who can’t resist riches (and is far more fun than in “Oz”).
Yet while Korine delivers numerous stellar moments, they don’t total an emotionally satisfying whole. The story is spare, characters are underdeveloped, and debauched doings that transpire between the plot dots begin to feel repetitive.
Gomez’s character is defined by little more than her religious faith, and the others, though played with commitment by the young actresses, are indistinguishable from one another. Too much sensational and raunchy anatomical material obscures who these young women truly are.
At its best, the film is crazed pop art. Too often, though, it is just a vivid depravity fest whose protagonists lack the substance necessary to inspire viewers to stick with them.
Spring Breakers ★★½
- With James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine
- Written and directed by Harmony Korine
- Not rated
- Running time 1 hour, 34 minutes