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Review: 'Spring Breakers' revels in artful sleaze

TV trio Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are far from family fare as criminal college girls in Harmony Korine's lewd and lush new film.

March 14, 2013|By Robert Abele
  • James Franco stars in "Spring Breakers."
James Franco stars in "Spring Breakers." (Michael Muller, A24 )

Florida in March is the vacation destination your mother warned you about. Which is one of the reasons Disney Channel sweethearts Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens were drawn to the candy-colored sleaze that is Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers." It's their chance, with ABC Family's Ashley Benson ("Pretty Little Liars"), to break free of the parental-guidance considerations that have ruled their careers.

Lewd, lush and mind-emptying, "Spring Breakers" mixes the commercial lure of its bikini-clad good girls turned bad with Korine's brand of subculture excavation ("Gummo," "Trash Humpers"). The movie is an arty lark of ambiguous entertainment value, pulsing with melancholy. It's rarely less than interesting visually or tonally, thanks in large part to Korine's prurient sense of humor and the rich location textures and Crayola sweep provided by gifted cinematographer Benoit Debie ("Enter the Void").

The threadbare story — rumbling like a bass line between the ambient images of bongs, breasts and beat-driven boredom — involves money-strapped college girls (including Korine's wife, Rachel) who rob a diner with ski masks, water pistols and mallets to fund their spring break road trip.

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After landing in jail, the quartet are bailed out by Alien, a cornrowed multi-hyphenate (rapper/pusher/arms dealer) played with amusing Cheshire Cat skeeviness by the ubiquitous James Franco. He croons a Britney Spears song at his poolside baby grand while the group — minus Gomez's God-fearing character, who wisely bails — plan further criminal adventures in the milky glow of youthful hedonism. This time with pink ski masks and real firepower.

Is any of it sexy? Not especially. Is it violent? Plenty of TV shows are worse. Is it truthful? Well, yes and no. Korine does manage the nifty respiratory trick of breathing in the intoxicating perfume of debauchery while exhaling a self-satisfied soullessness about it all. In the end, it's the strip club leer that hardens into a catatonic stare, which in its way is commentary enough for a pop-exploitation riff like "Spring Breakers."

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'Spring Breakers'

MPAA rating: R for violence, language and sexual content

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: At the ArcLight Hollywood

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