A lukewarm mess at best.
DIRECTED BY LEE DANIELS
Since debuting to a critical drubbing at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the two labels most frequently associated with The Paperboy (apart from “that movie where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron”) are “fever dream” and “hot mess.” Insofar as both terms suggest the film’s sweaty Southern setting and general narrative incomprehensibility, they’re right on the money. But they would also seem to imply that Lee Daniels’ pulpy potboiler isn’t snooze-inducingly dull.
To paraphrase our review of last year’s Twilight instalment (and to once again bastardize a storied idiom), The Paperboy somehow manages to snatch boredom from the jaws of batshit insanity. Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel has all the ingredients for lurid thrills, including a plot about a death-row inmate (here played by John Cusack) who enlists the aid of his sexpot penpal fiancée (Kidman) and a pair of Miami reporters (Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo) to see his conviction overturned.
But Daniels is less interested in taut storytelling than in stringing together moments of sensationalism (the aforementioned golden shower; a scene in which Kidman and Cusack trade telekinetic orgasms during a prison visitation; Efron stripped to his skivvies, dancing in the rain) with no apparent sense of pacing or purpose.
If The Paperboy has a redeeming quality, it does boast several remarkably committed performances. Even these, though, pale in comparison to McConaughey’s recent turn in the similarly salacious—but vastly superior—Killer Joe.