If you want to stop hating on James Franco for his 2011 Oscar-hosting debacle, the time is now. Spring Breakers, beach-party fluff done as an art film by the reliably bizarre Harmony Korine, is a return to form for Franco. As Alien, a gun-crazy Florida drug dealer with tats, beaded cornrows and a grill any rapper would envy, Franco is a bug-fuck blast.
Too bad the movie itself is rarely as outrageous as he is. The promise of nudity and girl-on-girl action among Disney hotties Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars) is just a porny tease. Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson), Faith (Gomez) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) are merely college BFFs yearning for a spring break. Everyone but Faith (she’s into Christian studies) agrees to rob a local chicken shack to finance a Tampa getaway. Here’s your chance to hear the chirpy Hudgens say, “Give me your motherfucking money or I’m going to shoot your fucking brains out.” And they’re off.
Alien laps them right up. At his crib, where bongs and blow are plentiful and Al Pacino’s Scarface plays on a continuous loop, the coeds live the dream. Violence looms in the form of Archie (Gucci Mane), Alien’s gangsta enemy. No sweat. When Alien isn’t going down on a gun barrel in a homoerotic domination game, he sits at his poolside piano and croons Britney Spears ballads to the girls, who wear pink ski masks and dance around waving AK-47s.
Faith is the first one to take the bus home. You may want to follow, before the exasperating Korine of Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers starts letting dialogue repeat itself across a throbbing soundscape from Cliff Martinez (Drive) and Skrillex. If the reverb doesn’t get you, the images will, especially a bloody, climactic gun battle. Benoît Debie, the camera master who shot Irreversible, washes the screen with lurid color that turns your eyes into pinwheels.
The actors can’t compete with the kinky, trippy visuals – except Franco, who surfs Korine’s wavelength and doesn’t wipe out. No small feat, given Korine’s masturbatory self-regard. Franco’s sleazoid tour de force is no match for 127 Hours or even Pineapple Express. But this dude can hold the screen.