There are two ways to judge the new James Franco drama Spring Breakers–by what’s on and off-screen.
To judge what’s onscreen is to view the film as a ridiculous, repetitive and shallow drama that leaves little to the imagination. To judge what’s offscreen is to likely look at what–one could argue–the filmmaker was trying to do.
The film begins with a group of college-aged partygoers drinking, taking their clothes off and dancing in accordance with spring break protocol. Like the far superior Piranha 3D, these scenes showcase young people celebrating excess and fun in the sun.
Soon enough, we meet four young women who see spring break as an escape from their ordinary–and seemingly unfulfilled–lives. The four women are Cotty (Rachel Korine), Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Faith (Selena Gomez). Early on, the group realizes that they don’t have enough money to go on their planned trip, so three of them stage an unbelievable robbery of a chicken eatery and use the money to get them to the beach.
Things go downhill quickly when they arrive at their destination. The girls get lost in the craziness of their surroundings but Faith–the Christian good-girl of the group–is the one who really loses her senses early on.
“I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been,” she thinks. In one scene, she even intimates that she wants her grandmother to come down and join the festivities.
The quartet eventually get arrested and a gun-toting, drug-dealing sociopath named Alien (James Franco) comes to their rescue. With his riches and rambunctious personality, he lures the girls into his world of savagery and disrepute. The megalomaniac believes he is king of the planet and embraces the women as new conquests in his empire.
“Truth be told, I ain’t from this planet, y’all,” he says in a script that lacks any sense of subtlety. Franco, in a role that seems ripe for him, is appropriately out-of-control and seems to cherish every moment he appears onscreen.
As the story continues, the girls descend further and further into a strange world of drugs, sex and parties. Faith’s character eventually becomes the most interesting one because she seems more thoughtful and engaging than the others.
Aside from her and Cotty, though, the other two girls have little to do and are given very few opportunities to create multi-dimensional characters. They are presented as easily-persuadable props simply used to move the story along.
And as the film stumbles along, from one forgettable scene to the next, it’s hard to continue caring about what happens to the characters. Eventually–from seemingly out of nowhere– a rival of Alien’s takes a prominent role in the film which inevitably leads to a showdown that features bikinis, bullets and buckets of blood.
It seems like writer/director Harmony Korine (Kids) had a message that he was attempting to convey in the story, but none of it shines through in this good-looking but ultimately empty vehicle. It’s hard not to leave the theater disappointed that this spring break is one so easily forgotten.