(CNN) -- A film poet and provocateur probably more famous for his bombed-out appearances on David Letterman, Harmony Korine made a name for himself in 1995 with "Kids," Larry Clark's brutally unsentimental film about the teenage sex drive from a screenplay Korine had written when he was 18.
Fast-forward nearly two decades. Korine, now 40, is no longer the enfant terrible. He's married, a father, and perhaps starting to chafe against the marginalization that comes with such willfully independent ventures as "Gummo," "Julian Donkey-Boy" and "Mister Lonely." His last film, "Trash Humpers," was a fake found-footage romp about the exploits of senior citizens, hooligans who roamed the slums at night causing mayhem. It appeared on several critics' best and worst films of the year lists but scarcely caused a blip on the mainstream cultural radar.
Korine's new film, "Spring Breakers," has already made a bigger splash and represents a rare potential intersection between the experimental art film and the multiplex. But it remains to be seen if fans of former Disney Channel starlets Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson will be thrilled or scandalized by what they see. Like "Kids," "Spring Breakers" suggests that young people behave very differently among their peers than they do with adults.
Although the Christian goody two-shoes Faith (Gomez) eventually demurs, her college classmates Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony's wife) just say yes to any proposition that comes their way, no matter how sleazy.
Time and again, Harmony Korine cuts between the saccharine platitudes Faith feeds to her grandmother over the phone about how spring break in Florida has proved a positive and empowering experience, and rather less salubrious footage of the rampant hedonism, drug and alcohol abuse, and orgiastic all-night parties the friends indulge in (some of which appears to be reality footage).
Even before taking off for Florida, the girls stick up a restaurant to bankroll the trip. Hard to imagine Connie Francis putting on a latex face mask and yanking out an imitation automatic weapon back in her day.
Part cautionary tale, part leering, lascivious walk on the wild side, "Spring Breakers" doesn't quite fit into a conservative "crime does not pay" mold, but when Faith resists the sweet advances dripped into her ear by James Franco's tattooed, gold-toothed, corn-rowed drug dealer, a silver-tongued Lucifer who calls himself Alien, there is a palpable sense that virtue is its own reward.
Alien is a grotesque creation, a white rapper Tony Montana who bails the girls out of jail when he learns they have nothing more than the bikinis they're standing in. But in Korine's imagination these bored college kids are more debauched and dangerous than Alien dreams.
Shot in hot lurid pinks and greens by Benoit Debie ("Enter the Void"), "Spring Breakers" has the quality of a fever dream, a narcotic nightmare in which voices loop and echo into a mantra or a dirge, and weird, stunted, self-contained scenes slip in and out of focus. It's a bad trip, but a trip with moments of blitzed out bliss -- like the odd, happy/sad communal moment around a grand piano, one of Alien's unexpected toys, when the dealer and his new entourage break into Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time."
The scene perfectly encapsulates the perverse mixture of childish innocence and excess that interests Korine and which makes "Spring Breakers" something more than a subversive stunt -- an authentically cracked expression of the crazy, conflicting signals bombarding today's teenagers.