These "High School Musical" sequels have gotten really weird
Director: Harmony Korine
Starring: James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.
It is difficult to tell whether Spring Breakers comes to praise debauchery or bury it. That lack of clear intent is just part of the problem with this unabashed Dionysian immersion, which begins with opening shots of topless girls, lewd boys and other assorted imagery of Spring Break revelry.
And that's just where four college girls in Kentucky want to be. Tired of their self-declared boring life, it’s Florida or bust for Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine). As her name implies, Faith is the relatively goody two-shoes of the group, torn between her fundamentalist religious classes and the hedonistic hijinks of her gal pals. Still, that latent morality doesn’t impede Faith from reaping the windfall when her friends rob a local diner in order to have enough money to travel south.
With profane parlance and an outsized affinity for the gun & gangster culture, the four (usually) bikini-clad foursome are both grotesque renderings of femininity (as well as the Disney-fied roles that made Gomez and Hudgens tweeny celebs) plus the hyper-realized byproduct of hip-hop culture. Between the booze and bacchanalia, that ideation goes next level when the girls first get arrested and then bailed out by Alien (James Franco), who pronounces his name “A-lean” and lives for his drugs, his guns, his rap music and “Sprang Brake...” With cornrows, tats and a silver grill, Franco plays Alien like the bastard son of Gary Oldman in True Romance. “Look at my s**t,” Alien declares over and over, as if trying to convince himself as much as his nubile guests of his self-worth.
Director Harmony Korine has specialized in fringe art films like Gummo and Trash Humpers, and here he tinges the sunny and neon-soaked setting with disquieting dread, cued by Cliff Martinez' typically somber score. There are memorable sequences, none more than a slow-motion montage of Alien and the girls violently beating and robbing tourists set to the ironic strains of Britney Spears’ "Everytime.” And with a predilection for droning, repetitive dialogue and endless voice-overs, Spring Breakers feels like a cross between Deliverance and Scarface directed jointly by Terrence Malick and Russ Meyer. And, no, that’s not a compliment.
Indeed, Alien’s brag that he has “Scarface. On repeat.” playing in his home suggests the flawed dichotomy of Spring Breakers. You watch anticipating comeuppance for those who don’t seem to grasp the dividing line between air pistols and actual guns, but it never really comes. Yet, the film also glorifies that same gangster culture, sometimes using uncomfortably racist undertones. By film’s end, it’s hard to know whether there's a lesson to be learned by anyone, most of the all the audience.