Selena Gomez as Faith
Vanessa Hudgens as Candy
Ashley Benson as Brit
Rachel Korine as Cotty
James Franco as Alien
Heather Morris as Bess
Gucci Mane as Archie
Emma Holzer as Heather
Ash Lendzion as Forest
Cait Taylor as Tiffany
Owen Harn as Alien’s Thug
Ken Anthony II as Archies Thug-club
Jeph Cangé as Archie’s Thug
John McClain as Judge
Directed by Harmony Korine
Four college friends want to go down to St. Petersburg, Florida for spring break, but they don’t have enough money so three of them decide to rob a restaurant. Once they get down there, they encounter the gangster rapper known as Alien (James Franco), who takes them under his wing in his criminal empire where they get into progressively more dangerous situations.
Harmony Korine’s filmography includes a number of independent films that even the most ardent art-loving cinephile might call “unwatchable,” so to think of him making a movie that could be entertaining to mainstream audiences is something that might have been unheard of a few years back.
Opening with an MTV-inspired montage featuring the type of nudity and debauchery we might expect from a spring break movie made during the ’80s, it’s immediately obvious that “Spring Breakers” is going to be nothing like the typical Harmony Korine film. That is, unless you go all the way back to the screenplay he wrote for Larry Clark’s “Kids” and then the connection becomes far more obvious, because “Spring Breakers” feels about as close to a modernization of that controversial drama as anything else.
Three of the “protagonists”–if you can call them that–Candy, Brit and Cotty are so similar looking with their dyed blonde hair it’s often difficult to tell them apart, while Selena Gomez’s “Faith” is set apart by her darker hair. As her name might imply, Faith is highly religious, but she’s been friends with the other three girls since childhood and they convince her to come with them down to Florida for spring break. The problem is that they don’t have money for such an expensive trip so the three blondes stage a robbery of a restaurant “Pulp Fiction”-style to rectify that.
It’s hard to tell what to think from the first act, because it’s mostly the four girls playing around and cavorting in bikinis in Florida. One can imagine that a lot of guys would be into that sort of thing but it doesn’t a movie make. Then James Franco shows up as Alien, a local Florida rapper, thief and drug-dealer who bails the girls out of jail when they get into trouble, and he single-handedly saves the movie and turns it into something that offers a lot more depth.
It’s another high point in Franco’s career, because the character is insanely hilarious, and he seems to be improvising whole sequences like when he brings the girls to his mansion to show them “all his sh*t” which is constituted of guns, drugs and a bedful of money. Even more surprising is that we also see Alien’s vulnerability and we see him breaking character to try to ease Faith when things start getting ugly.
All the actresses do a decent job with less rounded roles, Vanessa Hudgens taking herself ever further away from the once squeaky clean image she had in the past. Gomez gets off lightly by comparison, but for the most part, the four girls spend the first half of the movie partying and talking about life. There’s a lot of nudity in the movie as well as lingering gratuitous shots of the four actresses in bikinis, culminating in a steamy hottub sequence between Franco, Hudgins and Ashley Benson.
Things just get crazier and crazier the more the girls are pulled into Alien’s orbit and it ends up with three of them becoming his gun molls as they commit robberies, as seen in another slick montage. Korine does a good job building tension as the girls get deeper and deeper, creating an environment in which you can only imagine that things will get bad for one or all of them.
On top of that, Korine finds a way to mix art and exploitation using a hypnotic mix of montage and cinema verité, creating unforgettable images like the three girls dancing with guns around Alien as he serenades them with Britney Spears on a white grand piano. Otherwise, Korine seems to prefer images that are influenced by ’90s music videos, the results being a slick looking movie that can compete with anything in theaters but doesn’t veer too far from Korine’s artistic leanings. The film’s ultra-modern feel is enhanced with an electronic score by Cliff Martinez mixed with the electronic beats of hot EDM artist Skrillex. Their pumping music is often interrupted by slightly overused gunshot sounds that are mixed loud enough to be disruptive, although it helps to add to the edgy atmosphere Korine was trying to create.
The Bottom Line:
As edgy and in-your-face as “Fight Club,” “Spring Breakers” may be just as divisive because for as many people who will get what Korine was trying to do and go along with it, others might feel it’s exploitative and gratuitous.