Movie Review: Embracing the awfulness, the lunatic excess that is “The Beach Bum”

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As I type this, I can see the Kennedy Space Center from where my live-aboard sailboat is moored.

Jimmy Buffett CDs are what make it a “home.” And the makings of “boat drinks” are never more than an arm’s length away, right below the chart table.

So there is nobody on Planet Earth better qualified to review Harmony Korine’s “The Beach Bum” than me — nobody.

A drunken, stoned fantasia on a lifestyle espoused by Buffett during his “wasting away again in Margaritaville” years, Korine’s film is like a Cheech & Chong version of “Cannery Row,” its “yacht rock” soundtrack provided by Mr. Buffett himself.

A gathering of colorful, gin-soaked and weed-addled “types” played by everyone from Zac Efron to Martin Lawrence, it’s a logical extension of Matthew McConaughey’s “JK Livin'” naked bongo player image, had an Oscar and a whole lot of Lincoln commercials not gotten in the way.

Matthew M plays Moondog, a dazed Key West poet with a gift for off-color verse (“Key Zest” is the title of one collection), an eye for women’s beach and cabana-wear and a nose for the nearest blow, weed or life-sustaining PBR until he can find some more coke or pot.

“Ah’m a BOTTOM feeder,” he drawls. “Ah gotta go LOW to get high!”

He can be found on a beaten-up dive boat where he can giggle without care, drink without drying-out and indulge in his love of Buffett music, living that “Pirate Looks at 40” line that we hear playing on the sound system. “I go for younger women, lived with several a while — though I ran’em away, they’d come back one day, and still could manage a smile. Just takes a while…just takes a while.”

But any possibility of dissipated charm in that, a sun-and-salt drenched down-and-out baccanale — orgies included — in the Key West of legend (pre-cruise ship tourist trap), is pretty much wiped out the moment we learn just who Moondog is admitting that “bottom feeder” ethos to.

It’s his filthy-rich, just as self-indulgent Miami wife, played by Isla Fisher. It’s not the character — who cheats on Moondog with their weed-dealing music-living friend Loungerie (Snoop Dogg) — or Fisher’s engagingly dipsomanical performance of her that deflates “The Beach Bum.”

It’s the knowledge that this “legend,” this “local character,” this barfly’s barfly revered for his poetry, drinking and company, is rich. And because of that, much of the rest of “The Beach Bum” takes place in Miami, which has the requisite beaches the “bum” requires, but also a seaside mansion, McClaren supercar and boats far more luxurious than the fishing skiff he somehow drunkenly steers from Key West to Key Biscayne (170 miles, but when you’re loaded, who cares?).

Their daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen) is 22 and getting married to a real stiff. Moondog has to keep it together and not wander off until AFTER the ceremony.

This is, of course, impossible.

He’s not writing enough to keep his drawling agent (Jonah Hill, impersonating Tennessee Williams during his Key West period) interested.

He’s not sober or faithful, both of which he admits to with the “I’m moist. I’m lubricated” declarations.

The public drunkenness and public fornication tolerated in Old Key West aren’t as acceptable in Rich Wife World.

McConaughey, as I mentioned, has an Oscar. But this “performance” seems so unerringly stoned and slack-jawed that you can’t believe it’s not filmed reality. His Moondog swoons as he skateboards, staggers as he strolls and cackles as he slouches at the tiller of the battered runabout he steers in circles around whatever bay or beach he is motoring to.

His drunken plunge into the mansion’s pool, a stunt that requires McConaughey to leap over a floating sun-bather and narrowly miss a concrete dolphin fountain, is the only big laugh I got out of “The Beach Bum.” Because I was imagining the heart attack it gave the completion bond company that insured this fiasco, and the agent who probably realizes how close his meal ticket came to a concussion, or worse.

The real Jimmy Buffett appears as himself here, a background figure providing background music like the retiring choir director of the Church of Buffett-Orthodox he founded, decades ago. The director of “Spring Breakers” has created an alcohol-fueled fever dream of Buffett’s Margaritaville of the mind — a place where over-the-hill white guys with money can take on a beach bum’s aimlessness, and drink and indulge to their heart’s content.

Maybe even share a J and swap lyrics with Snoop Dogg, a fellow-traveler in the laid-back luxury of a life in herb.

Buffett long ago passed from a parody of his musician/”God’s Own Drunk” lifestyle guru into a sell-out peddling Margaritaville Retirement communities all over Florida.

But whatever insults to narrative drive, coherence, cleverness or cinematic necessity Harmony Korine offers here, he’s shown Buffett — to his face — the real Margaritaville, or its closest dissolute approximation. The “charm” went out the door the moment the money came in.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive drug and alcohol use, language throughout, nudity and some strong sexual content

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Stefania LaVie Owen, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence and Jonah Hill

Credits: Written and directed by Harmony Korine. A Neon release.

Running time: 1:35

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