Spring Breakers (18)


Dir: Harmony Korine

With: Vanessa Hudgens, James Franco

Runtime: 93 minutes

JUST as America finds itself in fresh turmoil over the right to bear arms, along comes Harmony Korine with Spring Breakers, a crime caper so armed to the fangs it begins to make North Korea look like a pussycat.

On the off chance that this is not offensive enough, he throws in a frat house full of bikini-clad women to tote said guns. When it comes to political correctness, Korine is wrong on every count.

That doesn't mean, though, that Spring Breakers deserves to be broken on the nearest wheel. Irresponsible, offensive, and overblown it may be. A hip, American version of The In-Betweeners it certainly is. But its sheer outrageousness, wit, and daring lend it a certain charm. In an industry going increasingly to the bland, it can be nice to have a bad boy shake things up now and then. The director of Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers (both of which were too-cool-for-school twaddle) is that bad boy, even if he did hit 40 in January.

Spring break is the season for American college students to party like it's the end of the world. Each Easter this invading army marches off to the cheapest hot spot to drink themselves into a stupor and generally misbehave. British youth, being more relaxed about such things, reserve the option of doing this most weekends and twice each summer. Decide for yourselves which is healthier.

The holiday-makers here are Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine, aka Mrs Korine). Gomez and Hudgens have made their names in sweet, wholesome, family entertainment shows, making Spring Breakers something of a career leap of faith.

The four are working away unhappily at college and trying to save money for the annual trip to the Bacchanalia in Florida. Getting nowhere fast, they decide on a more unusual way to finance the holiday. The slippery descent has begun.

Their arrival in Florida is Korine's cue to let rip on the party scenes. From beach to motel bedroom, the cameras get up close and personal with writhing bodies. Never in the entire history of cinema can cameras have studied bikini-clad bottoms so intensely. Unless you are a connoisseur of rap videos, or in the market for a new bikini, this grows tush-achingly tiresome after a time.

Happily, along comes a character and a performance to save Korine's picture from being the moving picture equivalent of a lads mag. One night the gang of four meet a real bad boy by the name of Alien (James Franco). When a party ends in a court appearance (leading to a scene unlike any ever encountered in Kavanagh QC), it is Alien who comes to their aid. The ladies have found their knight in shining armour, or in Alien's case, shiny piercings.

Franco is developing a reputation as the acting equivalent of Steven Soderbergh, doing one picture for the kudos and cool, and one for the box office. Just as Soderbergh mixed the glitzy, Clooney and Pitt-starring Oceans franchise with Che, a marathon biopic of the guerrilla leader, so Franco swerves between mainstream fare (Oz the Great and Powerful, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and edgier material (Howl, Milk). Spring Breakers is his most audacious foray yet into left field. Compared to the character of Alien – a psychotic, amoral, gun-obsessed, drug-dealing scum-bucket – those walks on the wild side by Gomez and Hudgens begin to look positively tame.

With the spring breakers becoming the Bonnies to Alien's Clyde, Korine's picture begins to acquire a little depth. Not too much; about half a millimetre at most, but it is there.

From gazing at partying youth, we are now looking at the class divide in America. To his doll molls, Alien is the real deal, the kind of friend their parents would hate them to have. He is the rap video star come to life, the all-American outlaw, living by no-one's rules but his own. To Alien, the spring breakers in general are spoiled rich kids, dipping into hedonism like a hot bath. When break is over, they can return to college and continue on that well-worn career path to riches and contentment. Where Alien will end up no-one cares.

Korine doesn't make too big a deal about any of this. Why should he, when there is much more fun to be had charting what Alien and his acolytes get up to in their down time? Flooding the picture with bubblegum colours and Florida sunshine, and even lapsing into song, Korine makes the bad life look good – for a while anyway.

With nowhere else to go but the inevitable, Korine wisely calls a halt at just 93 minutes. Like spring break, his film is over in a flash, leaving nothing behind. For a while, though, it was a blast.