WHEN he was 19, Harmony Korine penned the screenplay for Kids, Larry Clark’s would-be shocker about amoral teens living amid sex, drugs and Aids.
Spring Breakers (18)
Director: Harmony Korine
Running time: 93 minutes
Two decades on, Korine has graduated to directing his own scripts, and can afford classy touches such as Terrence Malick’s favourite cinematographer, Benoit Debie. Yet Spring Breakers demonstrates that he’s still banging on the theme of wasted, dissolute youth like a ditched older boyfriend.
However, his opening is undeniably both an attention-grabber and a goad: a long montage of butt-grinding, breast-baring, bikini-clad bodies enjoying a beach blast. The US tradition of spring break is roughly equivalent to Club 18-30: college kids head to Florida for a week or two of sex and booze in the sun. Longing to join the beer-drinking, bong-huffing party are four bored students: Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) and Faith (Selena Gomez).
They don’t have enough cash, so Faith prays for help. Her three friends favour more assertive action and rob a fast-food restaurant armed with water pistols, an episode that’s imaginatively shot from the perspective of a drive-by that turns out to be the girls’ getaway car.
They are like X-rated schoolgirls from St Trinian’s – and the casting of Hudgens, Gomez and Benson is deliberate. These ingénue actresses are best known in America for their squeaky clean tween movies and TV shows, yet here they’re given a post-modern juice-up.
Poor Zac Efron. This year, as part of his transition from teen dream to serious actor, he’s been peed on by Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy). Meanwhile, his former High School Musical squeeze Vanessa Hudgens gets to swig beer, play with guns and make out with James Franco.
But first she goes to jail after the police bust the girls at a motel party and sling them in the cells, still in their bikinis. Unexpectedly, they get bailed out by a corn-rowed, metal-mouthed rapper called Alien (Franco), whose interests include cash, drugs, guns and apparently teens in beachwear.
Faith leaves soon after, but Alien seals the deal with the other three by showing off his armoury of clothes, weapons and designer goodies. The jury is still out on Franco: in Planet Of The Apes, Oz The Great And Powerful and the 2011 Oscars, it’s as if someone woke him up five minutes before the cameras rolled, but he’s very entertaining in Spring Breakers and leads the film’s bolder strokes, such as a surprising singalong version of Britney Spears’ Everytime, which you’d expect to be treated with maximum archness but instead locates some wistful sincerity.
There’s some drug taking and nudity, but the overall mood is dreamy, with the girls phoning home to assure their families that they have found friends and themselves in a spiritual paradise, despite strong visual evidence to the contrary. The movie uses repeated snatches of dialogue, sounds, and earlier snippets of the holiday to create a drowsy pop-art third act. Some may love its audacity, but it really does overstay its welcome and as a send-up, it’s too monotonous and studied to be really transgressive.
Spring Breakers toys with our voyeurism and the dark side of teen hedonism but comes up empty. Arguably that’s intentional – a film as insubstantial as its characters – but where’s the provocation in a long, slow build-up to nothing in particular? Korine’s movies have no answers or solutions. They just push buttons.
• On general release from Friday