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Spring Breakers — 8/10

SPRING BREAKERS (2013, Harmony Korine): 8/10

Come for the bikinis, stay for the pretentious art film.

But seriously, remember in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE when Alex’s Ludovico treatment associates Beethoven with mass murder to the point where he’s disgusted by something he once considered beautiful? When the sight of a gorgeous naked woman makes him gag with nausea? SPRING BREAKERS is Harmony Korine giving us the Ludovico treatment. He starts off with a montage of superficial hedonism — hot, young, nubile bodies in motion, drenched in alcohol, boys and girls screaming and partying and doing drugs and flashing tits and making out. This is the part the perverts who saw the trailer and posters came to see.

Korine then spends the next 90 minutes upending our image of sexy young women until it’s nothing but pure immorality: tasteless, violent, dark, vengeful, nihilistic, and self-absorbed. The final shot is literally turned upside down. By this point, the sight of a swishing ass in a yellow bikini isn’t so cute anymore. This is, perhaps, unsubtle and heavy-handed messagizing. And there’s a vague hypocrisy surrounding Korine’s leering, drooling camera — yes, his lusty gaze is the point (irony) but does that excuse the exploitation? I’m not sure.

But what’s clear to me is how well the delivery system of this suspect message works. The film is overstylized in neon pinks and greens, its camera drunk with motion and focus, and the editing shows hints of a Terrence Malick influence when it slaps the voiceover of an innocent Southern girl (Selena Gomez, interestingly subverting her image as a teen pop star) over Korine’s version of a nature documentary; it’s just that this part of nature is drugs, guns, and money. The music is hypnotic. And in one delirious sequence (an early contender for best scene of the year), Britney Spears’s “Everytime” provides the soundtrack for some serious gangster shit.

At the center of this moral cesspool is James Franco, giving possibly the best performance of his career. Treating the film as every bit the comedy it is, his Alien the gangster is the kind of thug Franco’s PINEAPPLE EXPRESS stoner would run screaming from. With a toothy grin bearing a metallic grill, a corn-rows mullet, tattoos, and baggy shorts, Franco savors every line of dialogue he gets and nails the sheer ridiculousness of this thing. His now-famous “Look at my shit” monologue is everything it’s cracked up to be and more.

SPRING BREAKERS doesn’t waste much time associating the barrel of a gun with fellatio (though it begins with a squirt gun firing a money shot of water into a girls mouth, and later involves a real Glock in the mouth of a gangster), and this constant parallel between sex and violence almost makes Korine out to be some kind of Puritan. But when today’s teens’ idea of fun is cocaine, blackout drinking, and date rape in north Florida, it’s hard to blame Korine for wanting to blow it all to smithereens.

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