It’s been awhile since we’ve had an exploitation film this pure and unapologetic.
Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” is like the “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” segment from “Kentucky Fried Movie,” stretched to feature length and played totally straight. Korine’s film is like the trashiest “Girls Gone Wild” compilation ever, combined with a compelling super-arty film noir crime story in the tradition of “Drive.” It’s bizarre, but also totally thrilling- the rare movie about out-of-control teens in which they do terrible things, but there’s no lesson or comeuppance.
The film works because it takes a lot of risks that pay off, and sets up a world that at the same time feels both otherworldly and totally believable.
The big story with “Spring Breakers” is that Korine, the weirdo indie auteur behind “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey Boy” and “Trash Humpers,” has assembled a cast consisting of erstwhile Disney princesses Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, along with Korine’s wife Rachel and Ashley Benson, in a part that takes the premise of her TV series, Pretty Little Liars, to about the 50 millionth degree. And top of that, the actresses are in bikinis for about 95 percent of the movie’s running time, including such incongruous places as an arraignment hearing, jail, and the commission of a robbery.
Of course, there’s also plenty of close-up, slow-motion nudity, mostly of female extras. This movie has the highest concentration of leering shots of crotches, boobs and butts than any non-pornographic film since probably the heyday of Russ Meyer. Chances are any feminist film theorist who’s ever published an essay or book about the male gaze in cinema is going to have to go back and write a whole new chapter just about “Spring Breakers.”
The premise has four college-aged girls from an unnamed small town wanting to head to Tampa for spring break, and since they lack funds they decide to rob a diner. Then they had to Florida for a few days of debauchery, which brings them into the orbit of “Alien,” a rapper/drug dealer/all-purpose degenerate played by James Franco, in a career-best performance.
With braids, a mouthful of gold teeth and a personality that really feels like it belongs to a Florida dirtbag, Franco’s weird energy has never been better harnessed by a film. Alien’s house is a triumph of art direction and set decoration, best demonstrated in the soon-to-be-classic monologue in which he shows off all the props, while repeating “look at all my shit!” Highlights include an outdoor white piano, guns on the walls and “Scarface on repeat.”
The Florida scenes, in general, have an air of a certain kind of Sunshine State sleaziness that’s rarely been captured on screen before, as it goes even more downmarket than the various adaptations of Carl Hiasson and Elmore Leonard. The spirit of the great Twitter feed “Florida Man”- which aggregates bizarre crime headlines that include that phrase- is well-captured here.
Of the four main females, Hudgens, the formerly “High School Musical” star, is the definite breakout- she does a fine impression of a person who’s somewhere between a carefree party girl and a full-on sociopath.
Rapper Gucci Mane plays a rival drug dealer of Franco’s; let’s just say he’s not a natural actor and leave it at that. But there’s also a brief, out-of-nowhere supporting performance by former WWE mainstay Jeff Jarrett, as a heavily tattooed youth pastor. It’s the most inexplicable movie performance by a ’90s pro wrestler since Kevin Nash showed up in “Magic Mike.”
This movie is going to be divisive, to say the least. And I honestly don’t know if it’ll be a sleeper hit, or end up completely forgotten, I could see it going either way. All I can say is that it’s the most unique, and most thrilling release of the year so far.