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(2013) (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens) (R)

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Drama: While on Spring Break in Florida, four female college friends get into all sorts of trouble with a hard-core drug dealer.
Four female friends are extremely bored at school and desperately want to go to Florida and party for Spring Break. They include Faith (SELENA GOMEZ), a Christian who is the "good girl" of the group; Brit (ASHLEY BENSON) and Candy (VANESSA HUDGENS), two thrill seekers who have few inhibitions when it comes to alcohol, drugs, crime, or sex; and Cotty (RACHEL KORINE), a very sexual girl who likes to skirt the edge, but doesn't go as far as Brit and Candy in most circumstances.

Case in point, Brit and Candy don ski masks and use toy guns to hold up a restaurant. Cotty is their getaway driver. Faith stays back at campus. The heist, though, nets the girls enough to hop on a bus for Fort Lauderdale and take part in the booze-soaked parties of Spring Break Week. One such party features a lot of cocaine and is eventually busted up by the police. Faith and her three friends are put in jail, but are bailed out by a local drug dealer named Alien (JAMES FRANCO) who is fascinated by the four girls and wants to make them his own personal harem.

Alien introduces them to a life of real crime, fast cars, hard partying, and casual sex. They eventually run afoul of a rival gangster named Big Arch (GUCCI MANE). The lifestyle proves too much for two of the girls, but two remain with Alien and agree to join him in a final gun battle for turf supremacy.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Here's one of the many reasons why the world is no longer a good and decent place. In 1939, Frank Morgan played the title character in "The Wizard of Oz." He was a charming huckster in that film, endearing himself to generations. I'm pretty sure that two weeks after that film's release, the great character actor didn't feel the need to stretch by playing a violent, profane drug dealer with tattoos, cornrows, and a taste for slutty college girls in need of bail money. But that's what our current Wizard of Oz, James Franco, does in the new movie "Spring Breakers."

OK, OK. Let's be fair here. The two characters are not that far off. One day, Franco's wizard will bestow the gifts of a home, a heart, a brain, and courage on four travelers in need. Here, Franco's Alien is also a wizard of sorts, bestowing the gifts of -- well, cocaine, liquor, assault rifles, and poolside ecstasy to four other travelers in similar need. It's all good in the 'hood, yes?

"Spring Breakers" is the latest showy, in-your-face button pusher from writer-director Harmony Korine, who cinema enthusiasts either consider a daring auteur or a creepy pervert with past flicks like "Kids" (who can forget the self-professed "Virgin Surgeon" in that flick) and "Gummo." His latest film is not a throwback to the various '80s cheapies like "Spring Break," "Fraternity Vacation," "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise," and "Where the Boys Are '84." It has more artful intentions in following four bored college coeds (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) who knock over a restaurant back home to afford a trip to Fort Lauderdale.

Once in the Sunshine State, they get busted at a cocaine party and tossed in jail. Enter Alien (Franco), the local drug dealer/DJ who bails them out and wants to make them his own personal harem. Three of the four jump into the lifestyle with both feet and soon become embroiled with Alien in his turf war with a rival dealer (Gucci Mane). The whole time, they rarely change out of bikinis or stop drinking. A final shootout before returning home for finals is inevitable.

And that's the flick in a nutshell, folks. I'm sure Korine thinks he is delivering some deep message or sly social commentary here, but I think that's giving this film and the filmmaker way too much credit. What? Is he saying that the video-game generation is really a bored, thrill-starved de-generation that can't distinguish between the real world and the virtual one? Or, is he saying that the young people of today are growing up without morals, without values, without discipline and boundaries and this is the inevitable result? Or, is he saying, "Hey, if you can take a week or two off of life, go down to Florida, coke out, get lit, and arm yourself to the teeth -- DO IT! It's a more fun ride than any of the ones at EPCOT!"

The problem is, "Spring Breakers" is so unrelentingly base and vulgar and titillating that it's ultimately exhausting. And no matter how artful your intentions are, I still think you need characters to draw you in. The four lead females here are as vapid and as vacant as they come. To be honest, I didn't even catch three of their four names until the end credits. And the one character whose name I did get, Selena Gomez's Faith, I knew simply because the film rather ham-handedly makes her out to be a good-girl Christian whose spiritual values are made fun of by Franco. "Faith, Faith, Faith," he repeats, hammering us over the head.

Mostly, I just found the film monotonous. Korine repeats lines, moments, and even entire scenes over and over again like he is making some kind of weird, feature-length tone poem or something. It feels like an experimental flick that some pretentious film student has made to impress his professor -- and to get as many college girls as possible to take their tops off for. But in a real cinema with an audience, it comes off as amateurish and more than a bit tedious.

That said, I can't dismiss it entirely. Korine's visual eye is extraordinary. The cinematography here is darn-near dream like, and the film overall is never uninteresting to watch. And, yes, Franco does hit it out of the park as Alien. He is the only person in the film who is allowed to play a full character. Sure, he is basically the Devil on these girls' shoulders. But he is alternately charming and obvious, sympathetic and pathetic, heroic and tragic throughout. Alien has a point of view and a history. A better film might have been one told entirely from his point of view with the four girls used as sounding boards for different parts of his personality. By focusing on the coeds, though, it comes across as artsy-fartsy exploitation. I rate it a 4.5 out of 10 (T. Durgin)

Reviewed March 14, 2013 / Posted March 22, 2013

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