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Spring Breakdown

on January 17, 2009 by Ray Greene

The annual Sundance “What the f---” moment has arrived in the form of Spring Breakdown, a very bad genre exercise starring some very good comedic actresses who really should change agencies soon. Amy Poehler, Parker Posey and co-scriptor Rachel Dratch are Gayle, Judy and Becky, three aging geeks who can’t get over their college era rejections. Then Becky gets an unexpected order from her dragon lady boss, a female senator (Jane Lynch, keeping her dignity while others sink doomed around her) who is up for the vice presidency: keep an eye open the senator’s daughter (Amber Tamblyn, still looking twelve) and make sure she doesn’t embarrass mom with public lewdness. So Gayle, Judy and Becky hit the road for the mythical party town of “San Padre” to relive their past, learn life lessons and have a “spring breakdown!”

For about eight minutes you feel like co-writer/director Ryan Shiraki might be onto something: a send-up of the chick flick “empowerment” sub-genre, leavened with a richly warranted swipe or two at the teen sex farce. But Shiraki doesn’t seem to understand the difference between satire and lazy genre comedy, and so the tone of his movie veers wildly, from the occasionally knowing assault on trite convention (as when Will Arnett, the blind man of Poehler’s dreams, rejects her by feeling her face) to unbearably extended raves shot and edited like one endless, booty-and belly-shaking low-budget Shakira video crossed with a few tame outtakes from “Girls Gone Wild.” There are four (count ‘em) lengthy party scenes in Spring Breakdown, plus a wet T-shirt contest, plus a salsa wrestling contest, plus that trope of ‘80s “snobs versus slobs” genre comedy: the climactic talent show face-off between the outcast heroes and the sneering and shallow “popular” kids. Dratch and Posey vacillate between finding themselves through hedonism and scolding their college age peers like a trio of mother hens, and for every moment when these veteran comics pull unexpected gold from the script’s dross there are at least five where Shiraki strands them in eye-rolling close-ups that try desperately to telegraph that something the audience just failed to laugh at is supposed to be funny.

Aside from a few smug, nonsequitor, liberal, political asides, nothing about this movie seems sincere, including its contradictory feminist messaging, which is usually spouted by Posey or Poehler as strobe lights flare and women half their age butt hump each other in the background. Since there is nothing remotely alternative, indie or unique about Spring Breakdown, there are only two possible explanations for this film’s presence at a festival with as much indie cred as Sundance: 1) that Parker Posey has it in her contract for every movie she makes not directed by Christopher Guest to play here, or 2) that “Warner Premiere,” the mega-studio’s direct-to-video arm and Spring Breakdown ’s financer of record, have some sort of mad fantasy about picking up the slack created by the euthanizing of Warner Independent Pictures elsewhere in the troubled Warner corporate family. If so, Warner Premiere is as delusional as a forty-year-old college kid dreaming of becoming homecoming queen; next to this turkey, the recent WP production of Lost Boys: The Tribe is an undiluted masterwork. Avoid.

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Amber Tamblyn and Rachel Dratch
Director: Ryan Shiraki
Screenwriter: Ryan Shiraki and Rachel Dratch
Producer: Rick Berg and Larry Kennar
Rating: Unrated but with lots of drinking, sexual simulations, off-camera nudity and one very nasty cuss word inserted to insure a PG-13.
Running time: 84 min.
Release date: Unset

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