Harmony Korine seems to want it both ways, all day, with “Spring Breakers,” his super-stylized descent into a sunbaked hell where bikini-clad, gun-toting college babes serve as our guides.
As writer and director, Korine wants us to be appalled and aroused, hypnotized and titillated. He wants to satirize the debauchery of girls gone wild while simultaneously reveling in it. And damned if he doesn’t pull it off.
This is the rare movie I actually found myself liking more the longer I spent away from it and the more I thought about it — mainly because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There is a great deal of genuine artistry in this, the most polished and mainstream film to date from the maker of indies such as “Trash Humpers.” The exquisite images, which range from intimately gritty to eerily glowing, come from Belgian cinematographer Benoit Debie, and Cliff Martinez complements them with a mesmerizing score. But “Spring Breakers” is also provocative in various ways.
The corruption of formerly squeaky-clean Disney Channel superstars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens may be Korine’s cleverest trick of all: They get to show some range; we get to gawk. But James Franco steals the whole movie away when he arrives about halfway through as a cornrowed, wanna-be gangster rapper named Alien (pronounced a-LEEN). It’s a showy, wonderfully weird performance, but Franco also finds the vulnerability beneath the bravado.
The young women of “Spring Breakers” have their own treacherous road to follow. The four longtime friends (Gomez, Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) long to escape the drudgery of their dreary college life. Spring break in Florida beckons, and after a quick-and-dirty, coked-up diner robbery — which three of the girls pull off without the help of Gomez’s character, the churchgoing Faith — they’re headed South.
Clearly these women already were headed for trouble long before they got in the car; they’re essentially wild animals in hot-pink nail polish. They just needed a little shove, which the promise of non-stop partying provides. When they get busted for narcotics possession — and the flashy Alien shows up to bail them out — their fates are sealed.
They never feel like real people, these curvaceous banditas, but they are the future of America, and this might be the last, best time of their lives. We’re all screwed, Korine seems to say. It’s very sad — but also kinda sexy.