Spring Breakers: Booze, bikinis, and bongs, oh my!

Spring Breakers is the latest tale from shock-jock director Harmony Korine. Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars), Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place), and Korine's wife, Rachel, star as four college coeds hellbent on making it to Florida for, you guessed it, spring break.

Am I crazy, or are Spring Breakers and Oz the Great and Powerful essentially the same movie? James Franco stars in both - a tattooed, gun-totin' gangsta in one, a charlatan magician in the other (you figure out which is which), and, in both, he's encircled by a bevy of Hollywood babes determined either to get witchy on him, or get that other witchy-rhyming word on him.

I don't think anyone chugs malt liquor through a hose in Oz the Great and Powerful, and there are no talking winged monkeys in Spring Breakers - but after all the coke and pot and whiskey downed by the party-hardy girls who are the object of Harmony Korine's leering lens, they could easily have hallucinated a couple of talking winged monkeys. In fact, the college girls - played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine - could have stripped off their bikinis and joined the chimps in the hot tub, and they wouldn't have remembered a thing in the morning.

So, let's forget, for the moment, about Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams and that yellow brick road, and turn our attention to the aforementioned teen queens Gomez and Hudgens, determined to shed their Disney image once and for all by starring in Korine's version of Girls Gone Wild. Like Kids, the 1995 indie about ID-challenged New York brats taking drugs and having sex that put Korine on the map, Spring Breakers wants to have its cake and eat it, too.

That is, show a lot of blotto, beat-thumping revelry and naked, nubile flesh - hey, flashin' and fellatin', what ho?! - and then show how empty and existential everything is.

In Spring Breakers, Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine) are college coeds who rob a chicken shack to pay for their trip to St. Petersburg, which is Florida's Dionysian destination spot. Faith (Gomez), who belongs to the college's Christian group, joins them, and has no trouble keeping up with her gal pals' drug and alcohol intake.

Until the frolicking foursome land in jail, and get bailed out by Alien (Franco), a silver-toothed, dreadlocked drug dealer who invites the girls back to his place to check out his Uzis, and his Benjamins. You expect Al Pacino's Tony Montana to come out from the other room and tell the youngsters to shut up and go to bed. "You wanna play rough? OK. Say hello to my little friend."

Alien, on the other hand, has an arsenal of really big friends, and in one of Spring Breakers' ickiest moments, Candy and Brit force him to have oral intercourse with a couple of his guns. They are loaded - the guns and the girls.

(Meanwhile, Faith, like Glinda the Good, has had enough, and taken a bus out of this sun-soaked Oz.)

Exploitative, voyeuristic and not recommended to 1) parents footing their kids' bill through school, 2) NRA lobbyists trying to make a case that assault weapons are a constitutional right, 3) anyone who still thinks James Franco should have a movie career, Spring Breakers is fascinating stuff. In a purely anthropological, behavioral study kind of way, that is.

Like they (almost) say in the movie, "Spring break forever, witches!"

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.     

Spring Breakers

Directed by Harmony Korine. With Ashley Lendzion, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, James Franco, Gucci Mane, Heather Morris, Rachel Korine. Distributed by A24 Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 34 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout).