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Movies: 'Spring Breakers,' 'Olympus Has Fallen' & 'The Call'

Updated 5:42 pm, Saturday, March 30, 2013
  • "Spring Breakers," starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, is now playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    "Spring Breakers," starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, is now playing in area movie theaters. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:

"SPRING BREAKERS"

Given the popularity of "Girls Gone Wild" beach party fantasies, perhaps it was inevitable that some filmmaker would transfer the beer-soaked, bouncing babes-in-and-out-of-bikinis decadence and debauchery into the mainstream. And no one seems more suited for this trashy task than avant-garde Harmony Korine, the diabolical, self-indulgent auteur of subculture "Gummo" and "Kids."

He's joined in this rowdy rebellion by defiant, formerly squeaky-clean Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, along with Ashley Benson ("Pretty Little Liars") and his own wife, Rachel -- fluorescently photographed by cinematographer Benoit Debie, set to Cliff Martinez' propulsive soundtrack and psychotropically edited by Douglas Crise.

The seedy story, such as it is, revolves around four coeds eager to go to Florida for spring break but lack the cash. While church-going Faith (Gomez) prays, the other three -- Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine) -- armed with squirt guns, a sledgehammer and hidden by ski masks, rob a roadside restaurant, hootin': "Pretend like it's a video game!"

Fully funded, the quartet takes off for gyrating, sun-soaked fun in St. Petersburg. All too soon, however, their hallucinatory bacchanal of drinking, dancing and drugging lands them in jail, where they're bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a sleazy, swaggering, heavily tattooed gangsta rapper who transports them to his meth-funded mansion to admire his acquisitions, amid madness and mayhem. Faith soon hops a bus home, but her three friends become his gang. Then Cotty departs, leaving Candy and Brit in a gleefully seductive shoot 'em up with automatic weapons.

Seemingly energized by his henna-tinted cornrows and glittering teeth, Franco is far more effective, belting Britney Spears' ballad "Everytime" on his white, poolside piano and existentially chanting "spring break forever" to these garish celebrants, than he was as the wanderlust wizard coping with three witches in Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Spring Breakers" is a voyeuristic, visually exploitive, hyper-sexualized 6, a creepily calculated, cinematic commentary about the superficial emptiness of our youth-driven pop culture.

"OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN"

Think of this violent action-thriller as "Die Hard in the White House," as one lone former presidential guard redeems himself from shame and disgrace by singlehandedly saving the United States of America.

The travails of Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) begin 18 months earlier at Camp David where -- on an icy bridge en route to a billionaire's Christmas party -- there's a horrific accident, resulting in the death of the first lady (Ashley Judd). Although the tragedy was not his fault, Banning is banished from White House detail and demoted to desk duty. Cut to the present, as South Korean diplomats are being welcomed by President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. At the same time, a mysterious C-130 enters D.C. air space and launches a ferocious attack on the city. Half the Washington Monument crumbles. Olympus (the Secret Service code name for the White House) is invaded by trained commandos, led by Kang (Rick Yune) a diabolical North Korean terrorist.

Following protocol, the president, vice president (Phil Austin) and secretary of defense (Melissa Leo) are secured in an underground bunker, but treachery abounds as they're held hostage. Across town, in the Situation Room, the Secret Service director (Angela Bassett) summons the speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman) to take over as acting president. Meanwhile, rushing to rescue POTUS and his young son Connor (Finley Jacobson) is brawny, ex-Special Forces pro Banning, who manages outwit, outmaneuver and outfight every gunman in this path.

Patriotically scripted by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt and strikingly directed by Anton Fuqua ("Training Day"), the formulaic story revolves around a guilt-ridden hero facing his own inner demons while trying to fight the enemy, but what remains are indelible images of chaos and destruction in the nation's capital. Sure, it's CGI -- but, after the reality of 9/11, it's nonetheless terrifying.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Olympus Has Fallen" is a solidly tense, suspenseful 7, reaping the rewards of being released before Roland Emmerich's similarly themed "White House Down" in June.

"THE CALL"

Compassionate Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a veteran Los Angeles 9-1-1 dispatcher who's still recovering from a traumatic incident six months ago when she was unable to save a teenage girl from the clutches of a psychopathic murderer. Working as an instructor, she shows new recruits around the vast, high-tech Emergency Call Center that's known as The Hive, as the same "9-1-1: what is your emergency?" greeting is methodically repeated at every desk.

Suddenly, as she is explaining the stressful pace and high pressure of the job, Jordan realizes that an inexperienced operator is unable to cope with a panicked call from Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin), a teenager who has been abducted from the parking garage of a shopping mall by a stranger (Michael Eklund) and is trapped in the trunk of a moving car.

Reluctantly, Jordan takes over the headset, introducing herself and reassuring Casey that she's there and will stay with her on the phone until help arrives. That's the setup of a cat-and-mouse game that gets progressively more bizarre as Jordan calmly cajoles Casey to try to outwit her menacing captor by attracting the attention of passersby. Then Jordan realizes that Casey's kidnapper is the same maniacal madman she encountered six months earlier.

Unevenly scripted as a psychological thriller by Richard D'Ovidio ("Exit Wounds"), nevertheless, it is tautly directed with a palpable sense of urgency by Brad Anderson ("Transsiberian," "The Machinist," "Session 9"). And the increasing suspense and chilling tension is heightened by John Debney's feverish musical score.

For the first two-thirds of the narrative, Berry (Oscar-winner for "Monster's Ball") radiates intelligence, while Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") makes a smooth transition into vulnerable adolescence. In addition, they're aided considerably by Morris Chestnut and David Otunga as supportive police officers. Problem is: the jeopardy/horror falls apart in the third act with the final, vengeful twist completely straining credulity.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Call" is an intense yet shallow 6, with an absurd ending that utterly disconnects.