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Review: ‘Spring Breakers’ is a beach blanket breakdown

Harmony Korine occupies a very specific orbit in the movie industry, maintaining enough traction from being a hipster enfant terrible to make a career out of self-indulgent examinations of the seediest depths of American life. Spring Breakers is no different, but considerably raises Korine’s visibility due to its casting. With Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as Florida-bound college students, and James Franco donning dental fronts and cornrows to play a drug dealer, Spring Breakers will be scrutinized more than any of Korine’s work since his screenplay for Larry Kramer’s Kids.

Gomez and Hudgens are Faith and Candy, who plan to cut loose in St. Petersburg with friends Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife). Faith is a good if repressed church girl who presumes her vacation will be a rite of passage, while the other three girls just want to go wild. Minus Faith, the girls commit a crime in order to fund their plans, then hit the road to join the hedonistic throngs flashing body parts, drinking and drugging, and deep-throating bomb-pops. The St. Pete police are cool with the body parts and bomb-pops, not so much illegal drugs.

The bikini-clad girls are arrested, arraigned and bailed out. Their amateur bondsman is Alien (Franco), who seems like he will be the girls’ downfall at first, but quickly becomes something else. Korine creates a guessing game, threatening to lead the girls into exploitation-flick clichés before guiding them through more unbeaten paths. The visual language he creates with cinematographer Benoît Debie (Irreversible, The Runaways) is both lyrical and harrowing, enhanced by an ever-present score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. Korine will take heat for the tits, ass and drugs on display, but it’s the eventual disorientation caused by the meandering plot that makes his experiment fall short of success.