Bikini Girls with Machine Guns in Mesmerizing ‘Spring Breakers’

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Average: 4 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Already hailed as this generation’s “Fight Club,” Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” is a mesmerizing piece of satire, a journey into the dark side of teenage excess. And what’s a better symbol of excess than the ritual of spring break? But lest you think this is like MTV’s watered-down version of pop bands and bikini girls, Korine has something much more intense in store for you. With a pumping, brilliant score by Cliff Martinez (“Drive”) and Skrillex, an outstanding supporting performance from James Franco, and some of the most ridiculous behavior you’ll see on screen all year, “Spring Breakers” is thoroughly entertaining and kinda brilliant.

“Spring Breakers” lets viewers know what they’re in for immediately. There’s no warm-up as pounding dubstep music screams from the speakers (make sure your theater of choice plays it LOUD) and Korine, with perfect cinematography from the great Benoit Debie (“Enter the Void”), uses his camera like a leering teenage boy at a beach party in Daytona. There are pornos that don’t have as many slow-motion shots of boobs bouncing as “Spring Breakers”. Beer bongs, cocaine, marijuana, general molestation – it’s a vision of spring break that would send your grandparents into cardiac arrest.

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers
Photo credit: A24 Films

And it’s exactly where four girls without the money to get to spring break want to be. The “heroines” of “Spring Breakers” are Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and the sweetest girl of the bunch, satirically-named Faith (Selena Gomez). Guess which one is the most religious? Korine is having a blast just in the casting of these four girls about to get in a mess of trouble. Don’t think for a second that he doesn’t know exactly how controversial it is to throw the stars of “High School Musical” and Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” into this carnal chaos. He’s using their former personas to turn our expectations of them inside out. Even using a Britney Spears song not once, but twice is part of Korine’s clever blend of pop culture and this film’s twisted worldview.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Cotty, Brit, Candy, and Faith really want to go party down at Spring Break, this mythical place where they claim they’ll be able to find themselves and “meet some really nice people” (calls home to worried parents about all the nice people they’re meeting should truly disturb those of us with kids). The problem is the girls don’t have the funds. Bake sale, right? Try robbing the Chicken Shack. Cotty serves as the getaway driver, Brit & Candy put on ski masks and hold up the restaurant’s patrons and manager at gunpoint, advising each other to just pretend it’s a video game. They’ve got the cash, time to head to the land of sun, skin, and sin.

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers
Photo credit: A24 Films

All four girls seem to be having a relatively-common party-down time on the beach and in their overcrowded hotel filled with half-naked chicks and copious amounts of drugs. The latter becomes a problem when the hotel is raided and the quartet is hauled off to jail and in front of a judge, still in their bikinis (they rarely leave their bikinis). When they tell the court that they don’t have the money to pay the fine, a gangster-rapper named Alien (James Franco) pays it for them, taking them to the much-seedier side of spring break. For some people, the chaotic behavior of spring break never ends. They never go back to school. They live in a world of drugs, sex, and crime. Alien loves this world. He just wants to be bad all the time. Screw being good. He wants as many guns as possible and he wants to run the drug scene. And the girls are about to get caught up in his crimes, whether they like it or not. And don’t think that at least a few of them don’t really, really like it.

It’s impossible to get ahead of “Spring Breakers.” Just when you think you know where it’s going, Korine throws a curveball. The first act seems like an arthouse party movie with its good-girls-gone-bad and Korine’s fetishizing of all four of them. The girls lay around in their dorm halls, kicking their bare legs in the air, and Korine films them like an MTV music video, adoring their undeniable beauty. But then he refuses to make victims of his sex objects. Korine smartly knows that “Spring Breakers” doesn’t work if it’s just “good girls who end up on the wrong side of town.” I wouldn’t go as far as to say he empowers the quartet (Faith is the most apprehensive, which makes for an interesting thematic point in itself…that the most religious girl is the one least tempted by sin) but he doesn’t mock them either. They’re ridiculous but also somewhat easy to root for, even when they’re doing very bad things.

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers
Photo credit: A24 Films

And then there’s Alien. James Franco’s over-the-top, fully-committed performance is one of the best of his already-notable career. He is FEARLESS and absolutely captivating in his portrayal of a guy who has essentially gone off the rails in terms of common morals and decency. As he bounces on his bed, an arsenal of guns behind him, yelling, “Look at my shit!,” he is both caricature and fully genuine at the same time. Alien is the kind of guy you meet in a Florida dive bar who you can’t believe is real…but he is. Franco doesn’t play him like a cartoon even if he’s a ridiculous human being. It’s a fantastic performance.

I wish the final act of “Spring Breakers” had a bit more menace and actual intensity to it. There’s an amazing, slo-mo sequence involving Britney Spears, a poolside piano, pink ski-masks with unicorns on them, and shotguns, and the movie kind of ended there for me. The fantasy of the first act shifts brilliantly into the darker action of the second when Alien appears but I’m not sure it wraps up in as satisfying a way as I hoped it would. Then again, how does one really end a film this insane? “Spring Break forever…”

“Spring Breakers” stars Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, and James Franco. It was written and directed by Harmony Korine. It opens in Chicago on March 22, 2013. content director Brian Tallerico

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