‘Spring Breakers’ has shallow humor, lacks depth

March 13, 2013

Courtesy of Muse Productions

 

Harmony Korine has spent so much time building up his image as a troublemaker that he hasn’t bothered to make any films worth the trouble of seeing. “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey-Boy” are both collections of intentionally shocking sketches, but despite spor-adically arresting imagery, they serve little purpose beyond brain dead exploitation. The trouble is that they pose as radical, experimental films when the most thought they encourage is mean-spirited condescension toward their unusual characters. That lack of empathy wouldn’t be such a problem if the movies themselves weren’t so irritating.

“Spring Breakers” is Kor-ine’s mainstream bid, but that doesn’t mean his latest endeavor is any better than his others. Sometimes the film is interesting, sometimes it’s striking, but, more often, “Breakers” is the worst kind of bad movie — cheap, post-uring and vainglorious. It bends over backwards to feign profundity and then claims irony to protect itself from the unintentional laughs.

Much has been made of the lead foursome of college girls being played by young stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine. They definitely play more adult parts than they usually do, if being an adult only means being promiscuous. In their first scene, Hudgens and Benson exchange notes in class discussing their desire to be promiscuous. The girls are leeringly sexualized, with the only exception being Gomez, who plays a religious girl. Why she would even be friends with the others is a mystery, but that doesn’t matter — their bikini colors are the only true way to differentiate between the characters.

The closest “Breakers” has to an actual character is the girls’ eventual benefactor, rapper and crime lord Alien (James Franco), who is a weird hybrid of Scarface and Vani-lla Ice. Alien is an unapologetically campy creation who lacks the rest of the movie’s pomposity. Franco, a good actor when he tries, sinks his teeth into both character and surrounding scenery without any instinct of self-preservation. His goofiness steals the movie.

“Breakers” tries to be a morality tale for our times about four girls who get in way over their heads. But it fails to accomplish this as the girls are already doing drugs, stealing from restaurants and acting like unfulfilled nymphomaniacs. The girls keep saying they are miserable in college, but we barely see any misery.

The Florida they travel to is what you’d expect — it’s full of beer and bacchanalian excess, but on an unrealistically huge scale. This wouldn’t be a problem if “Breakers” didn’t aspire to anything more than trashy fun, but Korine continues to load on the self-importance. “Breakers” is shot and edited like a neon-drenched, emotionally stunted Terrence Malick movie, and Gomez, as narrator, calls spring break “the most spiritual place I’ve ever seen.” Going past the layers of dishonesty and pretension, “Breakers” is simply a dull and agonizing experience. This spring break, just stay home.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday March 13 print edition. J.R. Hammerer is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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