Spring Breakers (B)
U.S.: Harmony Korine, 2013, Lionsgate
Harmony Korine's movies -- up to and including his latest, Spring Breakers -- are mostly outlaw pictures and weirdo comedies about people who don't want to grow up: kids, crooks, artists. Spring Breakers is about four college girls who take off for the collegiate bikini-flipping revels at Tampa, Florida, and descend into hell. It may be the culmination of all the Korines: a picture that starts off like an arty Girls Gone Wild video, inflated to Hieronymus Boschian or Pieter Brughelian Beach Party proportions, and ends up doing a riff on the Al Pacino-Brian De Palma 1983 Scarface, mashed up into Charlie's Angels gone homicidal.
It's a sometimes fascinatingly dumb movie, about fascinatingly dumb people doing fascinatingly dumb things. Some of it is fun to watch, and some of it is irritating as hell. The story makes no sense, but at the same time, the movie -- part of which was shot cinéma vérité-style during spring break in Florida -- has some authentic peeks at youth semi-life and style. It's shot (and in one case, acted) like an art film or a neo-noir, and it looks good, even if its psychological substance is almost nil.
Some of it is great -- namely the shimmering, sunstruck, stunning cinematography by Belgian-French maestro Benoît Debie (who photographed Irreversible and Enter the Void for Gaspar Noé), and (especially) the amazingly entertaining gangsta-pranksta performance by James Franco as the brain-fried hip-hop-druggie Britney Spears fan Alien. Franco's portrayal of Alien, a guy who calls his bed an art piece and plays piano and assault rifles, is so good and such a triumph of charismatic dopiness and rebel posturing that it singlehandedly hauls the movie up a star or two.
The movies' femme leads are an odd assortment of Disney Channel or family-oriented teen queen junior superstars: Selena Gomez (as Faith), Vanessa Hudgens (as Candy) and Ashley Benson (as Brit) -- plus, as Cotty, Rachel Korine (who is Mrs. Harmony). They tend to look almost interchangeable, and three tend to act interchangeable too. Brit, Candy and Cotty are outlaws behaving as if they're "in a video game... or a movie." Candy, Brit and Cotty pull a Bonnie and Clyde at a fast food chicken eatery, while Faith is a good Christian who hangs around with the others because they've known each other like, forever -- or at least since grade school. Maybe they should be cramming for exams instead of pulling stick-up jobs and snorting cocaine in Tampa.
When the gals hit Tampa, they immediately fall into what seems to be a nonstop, bouncing day-and-night orgy, which gets them arrested and puts them in the eager hands of Alien, who pays their bail, and invites them over to his big, expensive crib with all his big, expensive toys. ("Look at all my shit!") Alien is also involved in a street war with an old dealing friend (Gucci Mane), and pretty soon, the movie goes bloody and haywire and murderously illogical.
A lot of Spring Breakers is shot and shaped like an old-style softcore porn show. It's blended with a teen-slanted '83 Scarface pastiche. But, as long as Franco is on screen, it's a good movie, and there's also something crazily compelling about the scenes of the huge outdoor dance-a-thon. The ending is beyond ridiculous, and not funny enough to save things. And the four femme stars could have used better parts and better lines, but what the hell.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (C)
U.S.: Don Scardino, 2013, New Line Home Video
They may call Steve Carell "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," the title character in his new movie, but he's really part of a team. Carell and Steve Buscemi play, not very comfortably, a pair of fancy-pants superstar Las Vegas magicians in this mostly misfiring comedy -- roles that should have been slices of cake for both of them, but wind up looking and playing like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis leftovers.
Garbed in Liberace-style glad rags and weirdo cascading hairdos, Carell and Buscemi prance and kvetch and diss each other, but obviously, unfunnily. Carell's Burt is the egomaniac/jerk of the two; Buscemi's Anton Marveltone is the nice guy who vanishes last. Partners since suburban school days, when they were the geeks who got picked on, the ex-buddies are now two post-David Copperfield professional illusionists who boast of their "Magical Friendship," and use it as an ad slogan -- but, really, after decades together, hate each other's guts.
Las Vegas show biz is a big, fat, juicy target, and the costars do their best with the material -- and so does Jim Carrey as a guerrilla and indie TV street illusionist and self-proclaimed "brain rapist" named Steve Gray.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is as much of a dud as its own title, which suggests a bad imitation radio serial. "Incredible" isn't the word -- and even though the overheated adjective is meant to suggest Wonderstone's overheated ego, it's too much of a bad thing. Which is exactly what the movie is -- with its deliberately sadistic gags about sweatboxes, violence, self-mutilation and cute-little-puppy-abuse. The school kid prologue starts out with Burt being bullied. Naturally Burt and Anton, the two misfits, bond, and their destiny is locked when Burt receives two birthday gifts from his absent mom: a box of cake mix, and a larger box containing Rance Holloway's Magic Kit. The kit is a spell-it-yourself prestidigitation package, with video, fronted by Burt's idol, Rance (played, in the show's best performance, by Alan Arkin).
Soon the two buddies are two little Houdinis. In 10 years or so, they're successful blonde, long-haired illusionists in Vegas, and in a few more years, they have their own showcase, sponsored by Vegas godfather Doug Munny (the sorely missed James Gandolfini). But their magical friendship begins to fray. A new crazy young rival appears: Jim Carrey as Steve Gray, another blondie whose tricks are unwholesome and whose style is heavy metal seasoned with masochism. So the two magical chums split up, and their brilliant and beautiful young assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) has also had enough of self-styled stud Burt and finally leaves, and the theater flops and Incredible Burt, who's been an incredible asshole, is eventually reduced to doing magic acts at the local retirement home, where he runs into... (I give you three guesses, no, make that one guess.)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has a snappy good premise. But it's an ugly show with ugly jokes, a sadistic comedy that tries to juggle surprisingly mean-spirited and unsurprisingly raunchy humor with sentimental slop.