By Chaz Lipp
Spring Breakers is the most talked about entry in the Harmony Korine filmography since Kids stormed into art houses back in 1995. Without the presence of James Franco and, more importantly, former Disney Channel princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, it likely would’ve stayed out of the multiplexes just as all of Korine’s previous films have.
The film gets off to a strong start as a quartet of friends laments their inability to go on vacation for spring break. Despite scrimping and saving, the money just isn’t there. Unbeknownst to Christian goody-two-shoes Faith (Gomez), three of the friends—Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife)—decide to knock over a diner (while armed with squirt guns and mallets) in order to score enough cash for the trip. While initially shocked, Faith accepts their actions and the four girls leave for a week of drinking, drugs, and general debauchery.
Just when all the nudity-laden partying scenes begin to grow slightly tiresome, drug dealer Alien (Franco) enters the picture. We actually first see the dreadlocked criminal rapping on stage for an appreciative crowd of spring breakers. But he turns up again to bail Faith and the girls out of jail after they get busted during a police raid at one of their out-of-control parties. Franco is hypnotic, fully invested in this fake gangsta who fancies himself the baddest dude in St. Petersburg, Florida. He takes the girls under his wing, impressing all but Faith with his apparent power and extravagant lifestyle.
Spring Breakers is intermittently fascinating, especially whenever Franco is wooing his newly acquired stable of sexy young playthings. As committed as Alien claims to be to his wannabe-Mafioso lifestyle, insecurities lurk just below his carefully constructed image. He makes the ultimately tragic mistake of underestimating these upper-middle class suburban gals, blissfully unaware of the demented depths they plunged to in order to even attend spring break in the first place. The trippy, impressionistic first two acts give way to an unfortunately more conventional, plot-oriented third act. We learn a little about Alien’s main competitor, Big Arch (rapper Gucci Mane), who’s hell bent on knocking Alien off his pedestal. It all plows forward to a ludicrous climax that trades the realism of the early partying for one of Alien’s Scarface fantasies.
The only notable performance besides Franco is Selena Gomez, who finds the heart and conscience beneath Faith’s misguided carpe diem attitude. We can actually feel something for Faith as she phones her grandmother to share her enthusiasm for all the new “friends” she’s made during the vacation. Her performance, without any nudity or gratuitous demonstrations of “bad girl” behavior, should help immensely in her transition from tween fave to serious actress. Unfortunately, the other girls split one character trait amongst themselves: cold-hearted hedonism. Their roles could’ve been played by any hot young actresses. Spring Breakers is ultimately an exercise in style over substance, likely to be remembered primarily as a curiosity.