There are precisely two redeeming features in Harmony Korine’s latest work, THE BEACH BUM. One, and I don’t care if this is a spoiler or not, the cat is just fine as the end credits roll. Two, Martin Lawrence as the dolphin-loving Captain Whack. He’s so good, in fact, that one hopes for a spin-off that has nothing to do with Mr. Korine other than a “based on a character by” credit line. And this would work because I suspect, based on the rest of this execrable exercise, that Mr. Lawrence wrote his part himself.
The rest of the film is Matthew McConaughey stumbling through a series of vignettes with a silly grin on a face and a ratty fanny pack around his waist. He is Moondog, a brilliant poet having fun among the burn-outs of Key West, where he is a local celebrity. The fun consists of the usual assortment of drugs, booze, and sex punctuated with bouts of writing on a manual typewriter that is subjects to much wear, tear, and indignity. Life is good for Moondog until he is cajoled into showing up for the wedding of his daughter, Heather (Stefania LaVie Owen) by his wife, Minnie (Isla Fischer), a curvaceous pleasure-seeker with a mountain of money and the loving attention of Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) to ease the loneliness of a husband who lives elsewhere. It’s one of those marriages where they really, really, really love each other, and show it by not getting into each other’s private life. In fact, after a brisk bout of unself-conscious public sex in front of the help and everyone sailing by Minnie’s palatial estate in Miami, they take to making fun of the daughter’s strait-laced groom (Joshua Ritter).
Though McConaughey remains a one-joke character throughout. A man-child with a budding paunch and a Peter Pan complex of staggering proportions, drifting through the enablers with which the universe has blessed him. The story does take a turn, leaving Moondog without funds and forced to enter rehab in order to get his life together. Really, though, it’s just an excuse to bring in Zac Efron as a preacher’s kid who has gotten the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross very wrong, and for a few more musical interludes through which Moondog can stagger with that silly grin on his face.
Korine might be trying to say something about finding a spiritual purity amid the self-indulgent decadent excesses of the 1% and of those burn-outs, but what he has created in THE BEACH BUM is a film that is a paean to his own self-indulgent excess. That he appears near the end as a journalist interviewing Moondog about his philosophy of life is a bit of egregious exposition that is obviously meant to frame the oeuvre as more than the sum of its parts. It’s not. Nor does having Moondog quote D.H. Lawrence, nor Mr. Korine indulge in flashy editing tricks that fragment time around a specific moment to create a non-chronological narrative. Instead, THE BEACH BUM is a brightly colored, tedious slog with only Lawrence to perk us up, and Jonah Hill to confound us a Moondog’s agent, played as a cross between Col. Sanders and Elmer Gantry.