Starring: Ashley Benson, Heather Morris, James Franco, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens
Summary: Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work.
ust before the candy-colored apocalypse comes to Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” you hear the peaceable murmurings of a beach, of lapping water, calling gulls and playing children. They’re nice, these sounds of summer, promises of carefree, youthful pursuits like building sand castles and shrieking at waves. The first image of what looks like a beach party keeps the happy vibe going. Dozens, hundreds of gyrating, dancing young women and men are basking in the honeyed light — as the beat goes on and the smiles sour into sneers — though it becomes evident that they’re also marinating in a tsunami of beer.
The beer doesn’t flow, it floods: over heads, writhing torsos and the bared breasts that wiggle like puppies and wag at the camera like the middle fingers that more and more revelers raise. Welcome to the party, dude, Mr. Korine seems to be saying (or is he snickering?), now sit back, relax and enjoy the show. He proves an excellent ringmaster and a crafty one too. In “Spring Breakers” he bores into a contested, deeply American topic — the pursuit of happiness taken to nihilistic extremes — but turns his exploration into such a gonzo, outrageously funny party that it takes a while to appreciate that this is more of a horror film than a comedy.
If the laughter at times catches in your throat, well, that’s part of the queasy, transfixing experience that is “Spring Breakers,” which plays with some of the same ideas in Mr. Korine’s last feature, “Trash Humpers.” In that movie, shot on VHS tape, four characters in rubber masks run amok, getting down and dirty as they compulsively, even ritualistically grind their pelvises against anything — garbage, of course, included — in a creepy, joyless yet also amusing burlesque. In “Spring Breakers” Mr. Korine has traded in his plug-uglies for a far more seductive and commercially viable female quartet that includes two former Disney teen queens, Selena Gomez (as Faith) and Vanessa Hudgens (Candy), along with Ashley Benson (Brit) and his wife, Rachel Korine (Cotty).
Introduced shortly after the opening bacchanal, the four play students at a nondescript school somewhere warm that’s ornamented with palm trees and bored young people smoking weed, hanging out, sometimes reading and even attending classes. Over a number of dreamy, elliptical scenes that slide from day to night and back, it emerges that the four friends want to go on spring break but don’t have enough cash. While Faith prays on her problems — “Are you crazy for Jesus?” her church leader calls out — the other three opt for a more direct approach: armed with squirt guns and a lady-sized sledgehammer, they go full-on gangsta and rob a restaurant. “Pretend it’s a video game,” one giggles. “Act like it’s a movie.” So they do.
There are consequences of a kind, but first: paaarty! The four later take off for spring break in St. Petersburg, Fla. There they join an invading army that has seemingly commandeered every inch of sand, surf and hotel. From rooms and halls these tanned, groomed, white-teethed paragons of American youth and orthodontics spill onto balconies and into pools, laughing and yelling as they drink, snort, dance, grind, thrash and jump jump jump up, moving together like a single pulsing organism. They’re beautiful and monstrous, enthralling and repellent. For those who don’t belong to their tribe (never wanted to, never did), they may be exotic, worrisome, frightening or representatives of the decline of the West in hot-pink bikinis.
Just kids or children of the damned? Take your pick. Mr. Korine, a pasticheur and cultural vulgarian (part Dada, part European art cinema, part MTV’s “Jackass”), isn’t interested in making up your mind for you. Instead he tosses out his ideas like puzzle pieces and lets you see how or if they fit. The women want to go on spring break and want to have fun, and he seems to want the same. He splashes on the gorgeous, gaudy color and bends the story line, adding brief flash-forwards and flashbacks that make it seem as if time were incessantly skipping forward and backward, almost swirling. Gestures, bits of dialogue and moody moments are repeated like old songs, like dreams, rituals and highlight reels.
Mr. Korine clearly digs frolicking with his visiting celebrities, and the actresses seem happy to do things that would make Uncle Walt spin in his grave. They’re almost giddy, at least at first, and given that both Ms. Gomez and Ms. Hudgens have put in time working for Disney it’s no wonder that they cut loose. In “Spring Breakers” they have the chance to simulate the behavior that feeds the tabloids without the humiliations and career-crushing price paid by the likes of Lindsay Lohan. For his recent, putatively adult role in “The Paperboy” Zac Efron (Ms. Hudgens’s co-star in Disney’s “High School Musical” series) played a scene in which Nicole Kidman urinated on him. The female stars of “Spring Breakers” get to shoot guns and hang out with James Franco.
The fantastic Mr. Franco, wearing grillz and long cornrows, rolls up with guns and a white Camaro convertible with red rims. His character, a rapper from “St. Pete” called Alien, is a hustler, dealer and self-anointed gangsta. He walks the bad-boy walk and talks the talk, but he’s strictly thug lite, a white caricature in a cartoonish masquerade of black masculinity. For the women he becomes something of a sleazy Prince Charming — not all the princesses are equally charmed — in a story that has metamorphosed into a feverish fairy tale. “Look at all my” stuff, he boasts, almost self-amazed, in a startling, deliriously funny riff on “The Great Gatsby” — except that instead of throwing shirts in the air he’s brandishing machine guns, bricks of dope, wads of cash, animal-print shorts.