Movie review: The Beach Bum

Harmony Korine loses the momentum he gained after Spring Breakers

The Beach Bum
Directed by Harmony Korine
With Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Jimmy Buffett, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, Jonah Hill

Cult film director Harmony Korine looked poised to break into the big time, assembling an A-list cast for his latest vision. But the result, The Beach Bum, turns out to be his worst effort to date, with an unfocused plot and erratic, over-the-top performances.

The main drawback is that none of the unpleasant characters ever show any signs of change. The main character is Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), a once-promising poet who is now a drunkard stumbling around the Florida Keys in bizarre mismatched clothes, generally annoying people and sometimes co-opting Jimmy Buffet’s stage to read a few vulgar scribbled lines.

He is like that wasted friend of a friend at a party who won’t take a hint, and eventually has to be thrown out. But as The Beach Bum lasts an excruciatingly long 96 minutes, it takes forever to get away from him and back into the fresh air.

The film just drags on and on, and actually feels much longer than Avengers: Endgame, which clocks in at three hours, almost twice as long.

The story doesn’t build in any logical manner. It is just one scene after another of Moondog missing important appointments, getting falling-down drunk, doing something outrageous and then encountering someone else and starting over again.

His fame as a poet has garnered him a wide array of friends, some of whom are quite wealthy. He is mixed up with a singer named Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), who is also heavily involved in Miami’s drug trade. This gives Moondog a change to stumble around in a classier setting and make some drug-related jokes.

Snoop Dogg actually gives a decent performance, considering he is mainly a musical artist and not an actor — though he has made notable appearances in several movies and TV shows.

During the course of the film, Moondog encounters his literary agent, Lewis (Jonah Hill), who tries an unconvincing accent and dons a funny hat. This seems to be all the thought the Oscar-nominated actor put into his character.

Moondog also finds himself hooked up with Flicker (Zac Efron), a sociopath on the run.

Efron creates an intense and driven petty criminal. But Moondog and Flicker together are just two extremely unlikable people, and their destructive antics don’t work as intended comic relief.

Another episode brings in Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence) as a seagoing tour guide with a leaky boat. The humor again turns rather viscous, adding insults to actual injury.
Moondog also has a wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), and a daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen). Why Minnie stays with the irresponsible Moondog, despite having other options, is glossed over rather quickly.

Matthew McConaughey had been on a streak of mostly successful films in the late 2000s and early 2010s. His luck hasn’t been good recently, with Free State of Jones (2016), Gold (2016), Dark Tower (2017) and Serenity (2019) all getting mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office.

The Beach Bum is not going to help him recapture his mojo.

Harmony Korine began his career as the screenwriter of 1995’s Kids, a gritty take on teens hanging out on New York streets and living lives filled with drugs, alcohol and sex.

After that he directed a number of rather offbeat independent films exploring people on the fringes of society, using a distinctive visual and narrative style that rejected many of the standard norms of screen story telling.

His breakthrough to the mainstream came with Spring Breakers in 2013, a violent tale of youth run wild on vacation. Korine had a good cast for once, with James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, and was able to push them into creating an engrossing drama that made a respectable profit.

After a wait of five years, The Beach Bum is all the more disappointing, as Korine failed to capitalize on his previous success, and wasted a good cast and a prime opportunity to further develop his unique style.

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