Susan Granger’s review of “The Paperboy” (Millennium Films)
Southern Gothic to its core, this murky, interracial melodrama follows a crusading Miami Times reporter, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), who returns to his swampy hometown of Lately, Florida, to join his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to uncover the truth about a slimy, death-row killer. They’re joined by Ward’s writing assistant, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), when it seems that an alligator hunter Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) might have been wrongly convicted of killing a seedy sheriff. During the course of this investigation, Jack is seduced by the racist convict’s salacious pen-pal fiancée, an aging floozy named Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman – in a grotesque, peroxide blond wig).
Based on his pulpy 1995 novel, Pete Dexter co-wrote the script with director Lee Daniels (“Precious: based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”), introducing the lurid plot with an interview with the family’s maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray), who not only delivers a retrospective of what happened but contributes a husky, voice-over commentary throughout the indulgently episodic narrative – courting danger, deceit and betrayal.
While Nicole Kidman’s public urination upon Zac Efron briefly ignited some sensationalist tabloid fever, it’s actually an appropriate treatment for jellyfish stings and not as shocking as one might think, given the circumstances. That cannot be said for Cusack’s autoeroticism, S&M gang rape and animal mutilation – photographed by cinematographer Roberto Schaefer through a grainy, hazy filter.
African-American filmmaker Lee Daniels has made no secret of that fact that he’s gay, and how this social-consciousness obviously influences not only his choice of provocative, racially-tense subject matter but also his raunchy, non-traditional perspective, favoring a multitude of erotic, overwrought scenes of Zac Efron, clad only in his white underpants.
Nevertheless, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to10, “The Paperboy” is a tacky, tawdry 2. It’s scummy, sexploitation sleaze.