Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is calculated provocation without purpose. It is entertaining in its nihilism, but its existential emptiness means it is incapable of being anything more than a vacant time-waster.
A great deal of its superficial and actual appeal is drawn from the unusual positions it puts its stars in. This isn’t done through some bizarre setting but through turning upside down the notions we have of three of its most recognizable faces in James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.
Franco is a gangster/rapper (not a gangster rapper) named Alien in Tampa who forms the strangest of bonds with four college-aged women visiting on their spring break. Gomez and Hudgens are two of the foursome -- along with Ashley Benson and Korine's wife Rachel -- and they are wolves in sheep’s clothing to be sure -- as big of a collective contrast as you might imagine to the personas they cultivated so carefully for years on The Disney Channel.
The only reason they cross paths with Franco’s Alien in the first place is because they rob a local diner to fund their jaunt to Florida and then, once there, wind up in jail after ingesting every sort of mind-altering substance at a party that gets a little too rowdy. It is there, almost halfway into the film, that Franco begins to make his mark, bailing out the quartet and drawing them into his exponentially more dangerous world -- one with stacks of bills and automatic weaponry and turf wars.
I'd be lying if I said actually seeing Franco sporting corn rows, a grill in his mouth, tattoos and, oh-sure-why-not, a series of Hawaiian shirts wasn't the main draw for me. (After all, who cares about seeing a couple of good girls go way, way bad in a movie when we've seen Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus do exactly the same thing in real life the last few years?) The visual was worth the price of admission. The fact that Franco actually pulled the character off was simply gravy.
Alien is far and away the most compelling facet of the story, making it a shame that he's not really central to the plot until the second and third acts or, you know, just the main character the whole way through. Korine is more interested in the violent descent of our four girls, who somehow go from slutty coeds to Bonnies with their Clyde in what can't be more than a matter of a few weeks.
For whatever reason, I didn't really connect with this choice -- probably because Korine didn't do much to connect the girls to his audience (other than Gomez, the goody two-shoes of the group who bolts before things get too heavy). Why were they so easily sucked into Alien's world? Sorry, a little bit of glamour and money isn't enough to explain it to me. Neither is the repeated clicking sound of a bullet entering the chamber of a gun or cry after cry of "Spring Breaaaaaak" from its characters. Without those questions answered, you're left to enjoy the seemingly miraculous oddity that is Spring Breakers' existence. It's not much, but it's something, I suppose.