Mark Reviews Movies

Spring Breakers


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Harmony Korine

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, Selena Gomez, James Franco

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 3/15/13 (limited); 3/22/13 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 21, 2013

Spring Breakers is satire akin to deconstructing a cardboard box with a chainsaw. The movie's subject is the excess and entitlement of the Millennial Generation—an easy target, for sure. Its mode is an alternately sun-drenched and neon-infused fever dream with a repetitious assembly of snippets of dialogue that mirrors the movie's nearly wall-to-wall soundtrack of electronic music. If we continue with the cardboard box metaphor, the effect is like taking a sledgehammer to the mutilated remains.

The point is that we catch every unsubtle nuance of the characters' narcissistic worldview and distortion of what one character dubs—once again, without any finesse—the American Dream. Writer/director Harmony Korine's condemnation is as shallow as the worst of the generation he seeks to censure, falling into the same excess—apparent through movie's the surface trappings—and entitlement—by presuming such a one-note critique is anything but that—that the movie clearly despises.

After a montage (The images of which are repeated throughout the movie; it's really an exercise in repetition) that lingers on bodies in swimsuits (and less) and fetishized treatments of alcohol (A row of guys with beer cans as phalluses "urinate" on women lying in the sand), the semblance of the movie's plot begins. Four female college students are pining for their spring break trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, with the hope of replacing the humdrum routine of going to classes in between bouts of lounging around or partying while drunk and high with a life of just lounging around and partying.

That three of the four are basically indistinguishable from each other, both in appearance (petite and blonde) and characterization (loud when they're not smashed, not too bright in any state, and as bland as they are uniform), does them no favors. Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) are essentially joined at the hip, with the only thing discerning the two being Candy's obsession with making guns with her fingers while popping her lips (The sound of a gun cocking on the soundtrack portends real danger in their future, and, like so much else in the movie, it's repeated to the point of desensitization). Cotty (Rachel Korine) is the blonde who isn't always attached to another.

The fourth of the group is Faith (Selena Gomez), a brunette whose name tells us everything we need to know about her. While her friends drink and smoke pot, she attends religious gatherings at the local church, where other members wonder why Faith spends time with girls they think are "demons." It seems Faith is losing her religion from the assorted shots of her looking less than enthusiastic at the prayer meeting, but it doesn't matter. She's here as the only character with any form of morality guiding her life. In that sense, her sudden departure from the story just before it really falls into madness is appropriate, though it doesn't help that we're left with the ones without any personality.

When the quartet figures out they're short on money for their spring break trip and with the knowledge that they need to go, the trio of interchangeable blondes comes up with a plan—in the movie's first blatant suggestion that these girls aren't admirable, in case we have yet to figure it out—to rob a restaurant with squirt guns (one of the movie's few amusing sequences, which observes flashes of the violent stickup from the passenger seat of the circling getaway car). With funding in hand, they make the trek, party all day and night, and wax philosophical about being who they really are in a place they want to stay forever.

There are more repetitive montages and lines of dialogue until some actual consequences put the vacation on a minor setback. The four are arrested, appear in court, and spend some time in jail for drug possession (all of this in their bikinis, mind you). A strange local rapper named Alien (a truly inspired performance by James Franco that is intimidating while still maintaining the aura of a pathetic poseur), who really believes he's from another planet, pays their bail, and soon all of them are caught up in a culture of guns (Alien takes them on a tour of his bedroom filled with weapons, which proves he's living that American Dream), drug dealing, assault and battery, robbery (Another of the movie's better sequences deviously sets a montage of carnage to a Britney Spears pop ballad), and gang wars.

The story is overkill, but it's the presentation of it that makes the movie overkill of the insipid variety. Spring Breakers ends with a violent, blood-drenched shootout that authoritatively shows that two characters have indisputably lost their souls. The real question here is whether or not they have them in the first place. If they do, the movie fails their descent by making them broad caricatures without any room for progression. If they do not, what, then, is the point?

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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