Review: The Paperboy
PLOT: Two reporters and a couple of lost souls team together to free a potentially wrongly convicted man in 1960s Florida.
REVIEW: THE PAPERBOY as a whole can be summed up in one giddily tawdry, borderline embarrassing sequence (perhaps you've already read about it): Zac Efron, playing a perennially shirt-free Southerner, has gotten stung by jellyfish while swimming in the ocean. Nicole Kidman, playing a ditzy tramp who has forged an unlikely friendship with the younger man, comes to his rescue when he washes up ashore, in severe pain from the stings. A cluster of women surround the scene, some of them commenting on how urine can cure a jellyfish wound and willing to commit the act in the name of saving him. Kidman, appalled, screams, If anyone's gonna piss on him, it's gonna be me! He don't like strangers' pee on him! She then, of course, squats over him and lets loose, the camera slowly pushing in on her crotch as...
Well, I needn't go on. But the sight of these two famous people in a scene of such schlocky lewdness is indicative of the appeal or lack thereof of THE PAPERBOY, a movie that rolls around and revels in its muggy setting, grimy characters and cheesy material like a gator in a swamp. Its a sordid melodrama that appeals to actors eager to debase themselves on camera and the people who love to watch such trashy sights; it has all the emotional intensity of a 50s-era Roger Corman exploitation movie, even as it tries to tackle a few political and social issues because it takes place in Civil Rights-era south. But it doesn't have anything interesting to say about Civil Rights or much else; try as it might, it doesn't have more on its mind other than sweaty flesh.
Efron is Jack Jansen, the paperboy of the title, a dropout with no direction who has taken up the menial task of delivering his father's papers. Dad (Scott Glenn) runs the local rag in Moat County, Florida, a backwoods small town that was recently the scene of a vicious murder: Sheriff Thurmond Call was stabbed and left for dead; a touchy matter since he was a good ol' boy with plenty of friends. The man arrested for the crime is a sloppy redneck named Hillary (John Cusack), who was essentially locked up without much investigation, perhaps the victim of a railroading by the dead sheriff's friends.
Into this mix comes Ward (Matthew McConaughey), Jack's journalist brother who has become a big shot reporter in Miami. Ward and his co-writer Yardley (David Oyelowo), a sophisticated black man, are in town to prove Hillary's innocence, even as it quickly becomes clear that the prisoner is a fellow of very low moral standing. Ward and Yardley find themselves with a driver in Jack and an eager assistant in Charlotte Bliss (Nicole Kidman) a skimpily-dressed vamp who has been carrying on a relationship with Hillary even while he's behind bars. (She's one of those wackos who fall in love with jailed men without so much as meeting them in person.) This strange assemblage will work together to overturn Hillary's conviction in the face of growing opposition from the rest of the town not eager to see the bad man go free.
Director Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS) plays this rather ordinary story out like a slow train-wreck, letting his camera linger on his good-looking actors as they undress, argue, get drunk and more or less make spectacles of themselves. THE PAPEBOY is more about atmosphere than it is about the actual story (the investigation eventually takes a backseat to the characters' petty personal lives), and the atmosphere is what we might call Hollywood sleazy, meaning that the movie gets off on its own button-pushing tackiness, even while it never seems genuine. It's watching A-listers act nasty and disgusting; there's a thorough lack of credibility to the proceedings.
Yet for all its perceived naughtiness, THE PAPERBOY isn't sexy, nor does it even have many sex scenes in it. What it does have is ample shots of Efron's character in his underwear, lots of show-offy dirty talk and some crude insinuations and displays. Kidman in particular summons up her best white-trash sluttiness and gives herself over to a role that demands she degrade and humiliate herself in every other scene. (The one where she simulates oral sex in front of her male co-stars in a prison visiting room sure is a beauty.)
Efron is a capable if not exactly compelling leading man; the young actor clearly intends for the role to push him into grown-up mode and he adequately serves as the story's lone morally-sound individual. McConaughey lets his natural southern drawl do all the work for him; it's the kind of role he can perform in his sleep, and it's a bit underwhelming after we witnessed the actor go all kinds of crazy in this past summer's far better KILLER JOE. (Now that's a B-movie that achieves its foulness naturally!) Macy Gray has a good supporting turn as the dutiful maid Efron loves like a mother; its her narration that guides us through THE PAPERBOY's muddy material. And Cusack is actually rather creepy as a man who, even if he's innocent of the crime he's been convicted of, still likely deserves his fate in jail.
I won't be giving THE PAPERBOY a favorable rating, obviously, but I would recommend it to bad-movie lovers and seekers of guilty pleasures. In fact, the movie often seems made for that crowd specifically, and if you find yourself enjoying this experience, you'll certainly have something to feel guilty about indeed.
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|Extra Tidbit:||THE PAPERBOY opens theatrically on OCTOBER 5th.|