Saturday, September 8, 2012

TIFF 2012: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez & Rachel Korine at "Spring Breakers" Premiere

When writer/director Harmony Korine's name is attached to a project (Kids, Gummo), you know you're not going to get your usual teen angst film. Korine's kids are vicious, sexually-obsessed, drug-fueled, unruly and self-destructive. And, as you would expect, this familiar cocktail is served up again in his latest teen feature, Spring Breakers.

It's Spring Break and 4 Floridian college friends (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez & Rachel Korine) are bored to tears on their deserted campus. Desperate and broke, they steal a car, don ski-masks and savagely rob the patrons of a fast food joint with heavy hammers and squirt guns. With cash in hand, they race to a party town to begin their wicked revelry, but the fun quickly comes to an end after they are arrested at a cocaine party. Unable to pay their high fine, they are sentenced to spend two days in jail, but a local wannabe rapper/drug dealer (James Franco) comes to their rescue and bails them out. That's when their adventure really begins.

Suddenly their world is introduced to automatic weapons, infinite cash, more drugs, gangsters, strippers and unadulterated sex. Half of them are scared off. The other half become gun-toting mob-girls and join the dealer's drug war against his rival. It's all a recipe for disaster, but that's just typical in a Harmony Korine movie.

Spring Breakers is destined to be Korine's first commercially successful film as a writer-director. Predominately because it stars some of today's most popular actresses -- specifically, Disney's Selena Gomez, High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens and Dirty Little Liars' Ashley Benson. Throw in Franco (Spider-Man, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and you've nearly cornered the market of every high school in North America. But star power is the only thing that Spring Breakers has got going for it.

Its myriad of scenes of drug use, innocuous girl talk and topless drunken beach dancing excruciatingly slow the pace down. Unlike the gritty reality of Kids, you get the sense that Korine is pushing the envelop less to reveal the struggle of youth and more to shock for the sake of shock value.

The film's only saving grace is Franco's overly-exaggerated and hilarious performance as a wigger gangster. It's so obvious that the actor is having fun in the role, and when he does, it's enough for us to regain consciousness. His most memorable scene comes when he sings a Britney Spears ballad to the girls by piano.

It's likely that Korine wanted the film's bloody climax to be epic because it's shot in slow motion to loud music, but its poor choreography and bad direction leave us empty. There's not much to like about Spring Breakers. More importantly, it's particularly unfortunate that a huge youth market will be subjected to its many shameful images of Black stereotypes.  And that's probably the only thing I didn't expect from this Harmony Korine movie.

Last night at the Ryerson Theatre, during the film's Q&A on stage, Korine shared that he wanted the film to be a cross between a Britney Spears video and a Gasper Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) film, which I think he reasonably achieved visually. Once again, Franco charmed the audience with his ultra-cool attitude and Selena Gomez noted that the film was a huge departure from her squeaky clean image and urged her young Disney fans to avoid seeing the mature film. How much you wanna bet they'll want to see it more now?

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