If you watched 48 hours of back-to-back hip-hop videos and finished with a mind-altering chemical chaser of your choice, the fever dream you had once you passed out would look something like Spring Breakers, which has become the first mainstream success for its formerly fringy director Harmony Korine. But there's a good reason most of our dreams don't run to feature length, and once the initial fizz has faded, you realise just how insubstantial this girls-gone-wild story is.
"Pretend like it's a video game; act like you're in a movie," Ashley Benson's Brit instructs her fellow 'spring breakers', as they gear up to rob a restaurant at gunpoint. These are the lengths they'll go to to fund their spring break, a touchstone in American culture that Korine's film fetishizes to the point of parody; a rite of passage that seems to represent hedonism and freedom and giving in to baser drives. Hence the MTV-style sequences of gyrating bodies and bikini-clad flesh which seem to make up half Spring Breakers' running time, all filmed through Korine's leering, lingering lens.
So this is exploitation cinema, but it's exploitation cinema married queasily with a self-aware edge of pseudo-philosophy. These characters know what genre they're in, and what stereotypes they're living out, but because they don't seem human from the start it's not interesting to watch them devolve into mindlessly violent shells. With the exception of Selena Gomez's good Christian girl, Faith (nobody ever said this script was subtle), these girls are walking moral vacuums, and not in a way that feels plausible.
And however self-aware Spring Breakers' sleaze is, there's something creepy about it as a male perspective on young women. Perpetually bikini-clad and bedroom-eyed, spouting lines like "Seeing all this money makes my p*ssy wet," they're objectified not only by lascivious angles but by Korine's disinterest in them as anything other than vacuous killer Barbies.
James Franco's drawling turn as drug and arms dealer Alien, who bails the girls out of jail and taxis them fully over to the dark side, is the film's main pleasure, injecting a welcome dose of absurdity into what's otherwise a pretty po-faced 90 minutes. A key scene where he proudly shows off his collection of guns - Brian De Palma's Scarface playing on a continuous background loop in his living room - is one of the few times when you sense Spring Breakers may really be about something.
But despite being released at a time when the debate about gun violence and pop culture has never been more rampant, the film has nothing much to say about it beyond acknowledging that the girls might as well be in a video game.
For a while, Spring Breakers draws you in with its arrestingly stylish blend of bubblegum pop and moody menace; its hypnotic, gliding lens and ambient synth soundtrack and rhythmic voiceover. But monotony sets in too soon, and caricatures never flesh out into characters, and you realise that the candy-coloured surface is hiding something that's neither especially thoughtful nor especially provocative.