NFL guru and cinemaphile Chris Corbellini went to see “Spring Breakers” and filed this review. (I’m continually awed by and grateful to people who volunteer their time and talent to contribute to this site. Anyone else who wants to do so, just contact our home offices via comment.)
Conduct a nationwide poll of overprotective fathers asking for nightmare characteristics of a potential boyfriend for their teenage daughters, have a court artist sketch a composite, then mix in 20 percent more alligator and 10 percent more Jesse Pinkman and you’ve got James Franco in the new movie “Spring Breakers.” He enters the film like a reptile with bling around his fangs in Act 2 and at that point you just have to roll with it. From there, what you’ve got coming is “Cheerleader Scarface.”
A confession: For the first time in my movie-watching life I entered the theater curious about who would be sitting next to me, guessing chatty teenage girls together, and balding, paunchy men in their 40s and 50s sitting alone. That’s exactly what I got. The opening montage of female flesh and funnels on the beach – with the lens so tight on the action it feels like the cameraman is a discarded flip-flop – made both demographics erupt into hysterical laughter. Soon enough former Disney actresses smoke enough wacky tobacky in college to make their agents tear up, a well-orchestrated (and directed) robbery happens, more hedonism followed in every crevasse imaginable and absolutely nothing was learned. This is Spring Break, you’re told, and dialogue and clothing is optional. But director Harmony Korine wasn’t finished. Franco shows up to raise the stakes, bailing this filly foursome out of jail after a bust in a local hotel.
I suppose this is the spot I should talk about the lead actresses – Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and Korine’s wife, Rachel. I’ve never seen one frame of those House of the Mouse motion pictures or television programs they’ve built their reputations on, so I only have a vague sense of the image they are gleefully torpedoing here. The director divvies up the juicy lines and lines of cocaine fairly evenly during Spring Break week, and also plops the group into what must have been real-life, improvisational situations (a roof-wrecking party in a hotel room, a neighborhood pool hall) and not one of them drops the ball completely. Not knowing anything about the girls beyond still images in US Weekly, I thought Gomez has the most potential for a long acting career. Her character Faith is a student at a bible college, the angel on one shoulder, and the one Franco’s “Alien” character zeroes in on like the big, bad wolf. She also looked 11 years old to me and the sweetness has not quite left her eyes, and I was relieved to see Faith flee to safety.
Innocent or cruel, I think women make better voice-over artists than men in movies, and Korine does a fine homage to Sissy Spacek’s small-town-girl VO work in Terrence Malik’s “Badlands” by having his actresses talk about happiness and connecting with others as footage of debauchery and violence plays out. The spine of the second half of “Spring Breakers” is Alien surmising these girls are down with a life of crime to snap out of the monotony of their lives, and exploiting that. There are scowling rivals to gun down. Stacks of cash to be made. Spring Break. “Money. And big-old booty. The American Dream,” in Alien’s words. At least that’s what I noticed. The film is a crystal bowl that slipped off the table, and it’s up to you to pick up the shard you see first.
Whatever you scoop up, at the very least it’s well-made. There is luminous cinematography involved (a darkened college lecture and the tracking shot of the robbery spring to mind). The editing is edgy and non-linear without being distracting – making you feel like you’re piecing together events from a hard day’s night the morning after. The performers were willing to go all-in for the director – willing to dress up in pink ski masks armed with heavy artillery while dancing around a crooning Franco. Yeah, it’s that kind of loony tunes and I won’t recommend it very highly, but not a frame of it is boring.
There’s an old line about how most people work, others are lucky enough to have a career, and a precious few find their calling. Korine impressed me with his debut screenplay “Kids” back in the 1990s, and it’s obvious indie filmmaking is his calling. Perhaps after another not-quite-mainstream hit a whale like Marvel Studios will allow him to make, say, an Iron Man 4. He has the requisite skill to stage it, but I doubt Korine directing something of that scale will come to pass. He’d have Tony Stark smoking out of a Cabbage Patch Kid bong.
One last note for NFL fans: I thought the judge in the courtroom scene looked familiar and after an IMDB search discovered the role was played by John McClain, a longtime pro football writer for the Houston Chronicle. Seemingly random casting – a sports journalist from Texas flown in to shoot one scene in Florida – but it worked. I felt that way about long stretches of “Spring Breakers.”