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Saturday, March 23, 2013 07:14 pm

Spring Breakers: Great and Terrible

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In The Wizard of Oz (1939), a young farm girl from Kansas wishes for excitement and gets more than she bargained for when a cyclone lands her in Oz, a bizarre alternate reality populated by odd, often hostile creatures. In Spring Breakers, currently playing in Springfield at AMC's Parkway 8, four young college girls wish for excitement and get more than they bargained for when a Greyhound bus lands them in St. Petersburg, Florida during spring break, a bizarre alternate reality populated by odd, often hostile creatures. There are some differences between the films, though. For instance, Dorothy doesn't commit armed robbery to finance her fantasy trip.

James Franco, who on other screens in town is simultaneously busy portraying the titular wizard in Oz's mega-hyped blockbuster Disney prequel, here sports a metal grill worthy of a '70s Bond villain in his portrayal of an otherworldly Floridian gangster named Alien, a would-be Scarface who is more than happy to take the four nubile naifs under his exploitative wing. The question of whether Alien is any less of a phony than Oz (or Franco himself) is left largely to the viewer's determination.

An unapologetic and challenging art film being marketed as a kind of naughty update of a Frankie & Annette-style beach romp, Spring Breakers has gotten a lot of hype for its stunt-casting of popular and generally squeaky-clean stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez as two of the Girls Gone Somewhat More Wild Than Expected. However, indie cinema fans familiar with the previous work of writer-director Harmony Korine (Gummo, Mr. Lonely, Trash-Humpers) are probably the only ones who won't be caught off guard by this film's intentionally queasy mix of lurid sleaze and visual lyricism.

Spring Breakers is clearly not a movie for everyone, nor is it trying to be, but any local movie fans weary of a big screen diet of the empty calories provided by calculated special effects blockbusters - alternating with the occasional roughage of a stuffy costume drama or two - should take note that this weird, energetic piece of provocation is even playing here in town at all.

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