Based solely on “Gummo,” I had high hopes for Harmony Korine’s latest film.
That 1997 directorial debut of the controversial enfant terrible — who had burst onto the scene at 19 with his script for Larry Clark’s “Kids” — has been variously compared to the art photography of Diane Arbus and to a gorgeous girl in a bikini who’s been dragged through broken glass.
I actually liked “Gummo,” which is set in the freakshow underbelly of Xenia, Ohio. Keep in mind that when I say “liked,” I mean “stared at with a mix of fascination and horror.” The film’s antihero is a glue-sniffer who kills cats to sell to a local restaurant supplier.
Now, subtract 95 percent of the fascination and all the horror — and replace them with soul-crushing boredom — and you’ve pretty much got my reaction to “Spring Breakers,” Korine’s tedious, St. Petersburg, Fla.-set exercise in crime drama. What little fascination there is comes courtesy of James Franco, who plays a corn-rowed, dental-grill wearing drug dealer named Alien. The actor, whose deep-fried performance consists mainly of waving automatic weapons while intoning the phrase “spring break” over and over and over again, like some redneck war cry, is at least mesmerizingly awful, if repetitive.
The plot, to the extent that there is one, revolves around Alien’s attempt to recruit four nubile female coeds on spring break to a life of crime, sex, booze and drugs, in no particular order. It’s a 15-minute script, padded out to 1 1 / 2 hours with scenes of degrading, “Girls Gone Wild”-style toplessness, underage drinking and drug use, and culminating in an absurd, slow-motion shootout featuring bikini-clad gunmen in pink ski masks.
How on earth is it possible for one film to be so tiresome? “Spring Breakers” isn’t deadly dull despite all the nudity and violence, but because of it. Korine quickly runs out of ideas — if he ever had one — and starts recycling almost immediately. The sound effect of a pistol’s slide being racked is utilized so frequently that it starts to lose all power. Besides Alien’s chant-like mantra, other lines of dialogue are repeated, with slight variations, in what appears to be an attempt to create a kaleidoscopic aural collage.
Oh, who am I kidding? It’s simply bad filmmaking. A scene of Alien sitting at a white piano crooning the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime” will go down in history as one of the most unintentionally laughable scenes in the annals of cinema.
And good luck distinguishing any one of the four female leads from any other. Aside from Selena Gomez, who plays a semi-devout Christian named Faith, there is no discernible difference between the characters portrayed by Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson or Rachel Korine (the director’s wife). Korine’s treatment of women as interchangeable sex objects suitable only for leering at, or snorting cocaine off of, is honestly less offensive than his unwillingness — or, more likely, his inability — to give them roles that even remotely resemble human beings.
If Korine thinks he’s somehow being ironic, detached or artistic, forget it. Once a year, St. Petersburg is awash with thoughtless, unpleasant people making poor decisions. This spring, Korine is one of them.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence, obscenity, sex, nudity and substance abuse. 92 minutes.