Review: 'Spring Breakers' a brilliant, baffling Tampa Bay fantasy

Spring Breakers stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco.
Spring Breakers stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco.
Published Feb. 12, 2014

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Spring Breakers is aggressively artful and unfocused, which would be a problem except it's also luridly fascinating throughout.

Would it be so if writer-director-provocateur Harmony Korine filmed this Day-Glo depravity anywhere other than our own suntropolis? Perhaps not.

But it appears Tampa Bay wears fringe nihilism well, including wet-fever dreams of trigger-happy angels floating on cannabis clouds and dusted with cocaine like beignets waiting to be licked clean. Or drug gangstas sporting cornrows and gold-grill teeth, living large and thinking three-ways. Film as a fetish tool, that's what Spring Breakers is all about, y'all.

It would be little more than soft-core porn except that Korine possesses hard-core talent. There are passages in this movie proving that, and nearly as many making us wonder why it emerges so erratically. Spring Breakers winds up going off the rails and over the trestle into deep, murky waters, but it's a hell of a ride.

The brazenness of Korine's vision leaves our beach communities recognizably misshapen, like a friend's face after a beatdown. This is a rampage fantasy, not only for its Disney Channel starlets posing dangerously but also for every college kid doing the same to buddies back on campus. There's enough beer-bonging, crotch-grabbing, lewd, lascivious and loving it action to fill a T-shirt shop with slogans.

The promise of such carefree carnality is what leads Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, the director's wife) to finance a Florida trip by robbing a restaurant with squirt guns and a sledgehammer. It's a brilliantly executed scene, entirely filmed from the front seat of a getaway car circling the joint, making the audience accomplices. The girls entice good-girl Faith (Selena Gomez) to join them on the trip but she won't hang around long.

Faith is shaken by a beach party drug bust and getting bailed out of jail by the movie's wildest card, a blinged-out rapper/drug dealer named Alien (James Franco), who's a Halloween costume waiting to happen. "Truth be told, I ain't from this planet, y'all," says this foul-mouthed trailer trash satyr made good by breaking bad. Franco makes a repellent character engaging, instantly quotable and generally unprintable.

Alien makes these bad girls worse, grooming criminal instincts by putting real guns in their hands for a bracing crime spree montage set to Britney Spears. It's all fun and games until someone loses blood, a casualty of Alien's feud with another dealer (Gucci Mane). As something resembling a plot coalesces, the movie falls apart, repeating itself in dialogue and structure.

The first time through, maybe even the second, Korine's pervy touches are fun, the way his camera dips beneath a swimming pool waterline, peeking at girls like a horny, curious kid. Or his stylish foreshadowing: the sonic coda of bullets jacked into gun chambers, and time shuffles not quite spoiling what happens next. Dialogue and flourishes are repeated ad nauseam and get redundant, until nothing short of abrupt violence can suitably end the movie. And so it does.

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The end won't come too soon for some people, the ones preferring our community image in movies to be where the codgers and dolphin play. Nothing about Spring Breakers reflects badly on where we live because, like Alien, Korine's movie ain't from this planet, y'all. It's just another close encounter with a Hollywood seldom allowing truth to get in the way of a good story.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.