‘Aggro Dr1ft’ Review: Glow-Stick Dreams and Thermal Nightmares

‘Aggro Dr1ft’ Review: Glow-Stick Dreams and Thermal Nightmares

A perennial provocateur with reliably adolescent interests, the filmmaker Harmony Korine does not make life easy for his apologists. At some point, maybe apologies aren’t in order. But for those who found unlikely poetry in the degraded-videotape stylings of Korine’s “Trash Humpers” or the neon nocturne of “Spring Breakers,” the director now offers “Aggro Dr1ft,” which depicts the ostensibly mind-altering odyssey of an assassin, Bo (Jordi Mollà), who calls himself the world’s greatest.

Korine shot “Trash Humpers” on VHS, reviving a moribund format. For “Aggro Dr1ft,” his gimmick is to capture the entire movie with thermal imaging — as a starting point, anyway. The heat maps have been colored over with animation and assorted digital fussing that makes it impossible to discern relative temperatures with accuracy. (Are front and rear tires supposed to spin in different colors, or does that car need a mechanic?)

Once again taking coastal Florida as a setting, the director makes the most of his glow-stick palette, filled with fiery yellows and aquamarines. “Director” may be the wrong word, though; the onscreen credit is simply “by” Harmony Korine, who has apparently forsworn any impulse to control his material. Using a synth score by the hip-hop producer AraabMuzik to give the proceedings a pulse, Korine thrills to hypnotic potential of cherry-red ocean waves, swoons over strippers whose intimate regions throw visible sparks, and dwells on Bo’s wife (Chanya Middleton) as she jiggles her rear end for the camera. Faces are scribbled over with robot doodles and skeletal X-rays. Gunfire registers as flashes of pure white.

Whether it’s the thermal imaging or the augmentation, the visual style renders eyes practically invisible, leaving the actors without an important means of communication. (Perceptual psychologists, take note.) That absence might account for why “Aggro Dr1ft” is so unengaging on a narrative level, but the monotony might also have to have something to do with the protagonist, a hit man extraordinaire who is also (gasp) a family man. The world’s greatest assassin has been saddled with the world’s most sophomoric internal monologue. “I am a solitary hero. I am alone. I am a solitary hero. Alone,” he mumbles to himself in voice-over.

Something like that, anyway. While mind-numbing mantras have long been part of Korine’s screenwriting tool kit (“spring break, spring break forever”), here, in trying to find a fusion of feature filmmaking and video game, he seems to have settled for fashioning the movie as a hyperextended cut scene. “I have won the game,” Bo declares after a beheading.

There is a plot, sort of: It involves Bo, recognizable by his glasses, mustache and Mollà’s unvaried baritone, being hired to take out a hit and ultimately doing battle with a winged brute who keeps women in cages. The rapper Travis Scott turns up on a boat. Jawas, seemingly having wandered in from “Star Wars,” get to play with the severed head. Bo is finally given to making pronouncements about the importance of love and stopping violence. And Korine achieves what he set out to do, which is locate a strange liminal zone between avant-garde filmmaking and searing viewers’ faces with a frying pan.

Aggro Dr1ft
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. In theaters.

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