Daniels’ Precious follow-up involves itself with the story of the Jansen brothers: Ward (a solid, if now samey Matthew McConaughey), a successful reporter, and Jack (Zac Efron), a handsome college dropout and former swimming prodigy. Ward returns to his swampy southern hometown to investigate the case of the wrongly convicted, but deeply unsavoury Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who has been sentenced to death for murdering a local sheriff. As the brothers dig deeper into this murky case, with the assistance of Ward’s colleague Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) and Van Wetter’s death row pen pal Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), sundried lust and vicious betrayal threaten to jeopardise more than just the story.
As with the aforementioned Precious (which also released to mixed reviews), The Paperboy moves from inspired to insipid at the drop of a hat, leaving the film itself to feel more like swampy parody than homage. This dichotomy is optimised by Kidman’s blonde, orally-fixated bombshell, who looks as though she’s just walked off the set of a John Waters shoot, yet actually delivers most of the best moments. The Van Wetter case, despite the best efforts of a vile Cusack, is constantly forced to play second fiddle, too weak and contrived as it is to go toe-to-toe with Kidman’s Charlotte urinating on an unconscious, jellyfish-stung Efron – Daniels’ infamous show-stopper.
Efron proves himself a worthy leading man, and his boyish infatuation with Charlotte can’t help but recall memories of both The Graduate (1967) and the twisted eroticism of Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). However, imitation isn’t always the greatest form of flattery, and there’s precious little thrown up by The Paperboy that we haven’t either seen before, or done far more coherently. Arguably worth a watch for Kidman and Cusack alone, it’s unlikely that the majority will show much interest in booking a return ticket to this particular Floridian shit-pit.
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