Super epic troll director Lee Daniels is back and… more boring than ever? Daniels burst onto the scene with the force of a Cuba Gooding Jr. cumshot with his criminally under-seen 2005 gonzo masterpiece Shadowboxer. Seriously, if you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this truly amazing trainwreck, which pairs Cuba and Helen Mirren as sexually involved assassins, you must do so immediately. It takes the concept of “so bad it’s good” and smacks it around with the butt of a gun wrapped in a condom until it just becomes “so good it’s great.” Homoerotic ridiculoid Daniels followed that up with the critically lauded Precious, earning his a best director nomination for what is essentially an exploitation movie that was somehow received as a hard hitting true life tale. I prayed he would win. He did not. Damn.
Anticipation for The Paperboy has been high for me, and I was especially fond of all the articles that emerged after it’s screening at various festivals which confusedly wondered how Lee Daniels, empathetic director of Precious, had gone and made his next film an outrageously over the top Southern fried erotic thriller complete with Nicole Kidman busting a hands free prison nut, pissing on Zac Efron’s chest, and a healthy dose of Matthew McConaughey’s spread butt cheeks. If you’ve seen Shadowboxer, you’ll know that this information is exactly zero percent surprising. A shame however that whatever new audience he gets (and believe me, in my screening I could tell a majority of people were there off of Precious good will) will be treated to warmed over weirdness instead of the naked psycho on a hot tin roof live wiriness of earlier work.
The Paperboy concerns the efforts of a newspaper reporter (the titular McConaughey who, regrettably, does not deliver papers from atop a bike here), his anger-prone younger brother (a confused Efron), and a bottled blonde cigarette sex dervish (Kidman) to save a death row inmate who they think may have been wrongly convicted, the brothers to fuel a news story and Kidman because she’s fallen in love with him through epistolary exploits. The killer is played by a hilariously miscast John Cusack, and the cast is rounded out by an excellent David Oyelowo as McConaughey’s dandy co-writer and an intolerable Macy Gray as the film’s narrator (a stylistic conceit that is never earned or explained).
The plot is as thin and skimpy as Kidman’s outfits, jumping through time and glossing over details with enough abandon to leave you not really caring at the end. McConaughey is pretty great, but the story is regrettably focused on Zac Efron who just can’t hang, and who’s character’s arc is pretty weak to begin with. I don’t have any sort of weird hatred for Efron for High School Music or anything, but he’s just not that good here. Kidman’s performance is the one getting the most buzz, but for all the most obvious reasons. Yes she dresses sluttily the whole time. Yes, she O’s onscreen (in that scene pictured above, actually). Just, she drops trou and golden shower’s Efron’s face. But all that distracts from what could have been an interesting look at people who become infatuated with inmates and danger, and when the movie tries to turn that way in the final act you quickly realize the time that could have been spent laying that framework was spent on urine.
So what you’re left with is downtime spent waiting for the next ridiculous scene. This worked in Shadowboxer because there was a seemingly endless streak of them, each one gleefully topping the next like Pink Flamingos was going out of style. Here you can count them on one hand, and Daniels doesn’t seem to be having as much fun with them as before. There’s a pretty nifty monologue delivered by a guy who is very realistically gutting a dead alligator, and some other scenes of “holy shit swamp life is weird” that work well. I kind of wish the movie had spent more time there. But dinner table scenes of Efron arguing with his dad Scott Glenn about… something? I don’t really remember it was so boring.
Daniels has a fine visual sense. Things are drippy and spanish-moss draped, and he does have a pretty impeccable eye for shooting scantily clad men. Women and gay dudes, there is more than a fair share of beefcake on display here. But there are no bravura sequences, and when one is attempted in the climax it quickly becomes incoherent, the camera as lost in the swamps as the characters. So it’s with a heavy heart that I say The Paperboy just probably isn’t worth your time. Maybe he can do Shadowboxer 2 next?- Whole Milk