Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron to subdue a jellyfish sting in “The Paperboy” and you wish she would do the same thing to subdue perverted, sensationalistic writer-director Lee Daniels (“Precious”). What a load of pointless drivel this all turns out to be.
Efron stars as Jack, a college dropout living in the backwater Florida town of Moat County in 1969, who spends much of his lazy life either masturbating or swimming. When his brother Ward (Mathew McConaughey), a journalist from Miami, comes back to investigate what he believes to be the wrong murder conviction of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), Jack volunteers to drive him around but soon gets more than he bargained for when Hillary’s sex-starved pen pal/fiancée, Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), offers to help with the investigation.
It feels like a John Grisham novel but it’s actually far less, the brainchild of novelist Pete Dexter–he also joined Daniels in writing the screenplay. Both throw in nearly every possible trashy thing they can think of but it feels like so much randomness that nothing achieves significance.
Their murder mystery is nearly devoid of evidence, facts, or interest, plus Hillary is about as charming as Max Cady from “Cape Fear” right from the start. I think there was supposed to be a love story between Jack and Charlotte but if there was then I wish they made it about more than a horny teenager lusting after a constantly moaning, gyrating, hyper-sexualized bimbo. The sex scenes take on an icky quality as upon their first meeting Hillary pleasures himself to Charlotte (doing her aforementioned spiel) while Jack and Ward wait to conduct an interview (the movie has a definite ludicrously camp value). We’re also treated to a rape scene later on. Blacks, homosexuals, and women are demeaned and abused and the movie has nothing to say about any of it other than that “this stuff happens.” Thanks for the update. And nothing is spared from being cut open and gutted here, even alligators.
Add in Efron taking every opportunity to appear in nothing but tighty whities and Macy Gray playing the stereotypical wise black maid (she also happens to be the narrator) and there is enough exploitation here to fill up an entire edition of “The New York Times.”