Four frustrated college girlfriends (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) plot to fund their best spring break ever by burglarizing a fast-food shack. But that's only the beginning... during a night of partying, the girls get arrested. Hungover a nd clad only in bikinis, the girls appear before a judge and get bailed out unexpectedly by Alien (James Franco), an infamous local dealer who takes them on the wildest spring-break trip in history.
Word on Spring Breakers has been loud enough for everyone to know that this is not a typical teen romp about college kids blowing off steam and getting their party on along the golden shores of Florida's Gulf Coast. It is that for sure, but writer-director Harmony Korine's vision of the masses of toned hardbodies' drink- and drug-fueled days and day-glo nights goes far deeper than playful exploitation. His intention is to peel away the trappings of a genre to uncover realms much more disturbing. Though wildly uneven, Spring Breakers is always entertaining, from the early gaudy scenes of girls and guys gone wild, to the unsettling apparitions of a hallucinatory thug life that come later. The camera gawks at all of this with slightly detached dread, whether it's brightly lit bikinis bouncing on the beach in slow motion or the automatic weapons, heavy-duty drugs, and unsavory characters who inhabit the place when all the spring breakers are gone. Much has been made of the fact that Spring Breakers is a breakout from good-girl status for stars Selena Gomez (as Faith) and Vanessa Hudgens (as Candy). Along with Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director's wife), this quartet is itching to play bad as they first get the money to travel to Florida by pulling a heist, then letting loose once they get there with the thousands of other mostly undressed youths (we almost never see the four leads in anything other than op-art bikinis). Being a little too bad, they end up in a jail cell, but they find themselves bailed out by a loony local named Alien. By all movie logic, this should go down as one of James Franco's defining performances. He is truly sensational. The movie soars when he enters the story as a cornrowed, be-grilled, heavily tattooed gangsta whose ear-to-ear smile and poetic rap patter enrapture the girls into the kind of danger they've only been playing at so far. Alien proves a little too creepy for one, who soon escapes home; another heads back north after an incident of gunplay brings the reality too close. But Candy and Brit stick around as Alien's soulmates, all sharing his guns, his bed, his money, and his inflated sense of self as one. A nominal plot pits Alien against a rival drug kingpin, and the movie devolves into farce in the final reel, but not before Korine has a chance to elevate the hypnotic imagery and obscenely elegiac dialogue into something much higher than the sum of its parts. For some, Spring Breakers may seem a transgressive nightmare of debauchery in its depiction of a social reality that Hollywood would dare not touch. But it's also a fever dream of color, humor, horror, wit, and craziness that has something to say. If for no other reason, see Spring Breakers simply for the image of James Franco losing himself with a glee even one such as the great and powerful Oz could never imagine. --Ted Fry