Starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman. Rating not available.
The aroma of swamp gas and cheap perfume hangs over The Paperboy, a movie of such monumentally campy sensibilities it runs out of genres to mock and makes up new ones along the way.
Directed by Precious maker Lee Daniels, who adapted Peter Dexter’s 1995 novel, it begins like an earnest docudrama, with Macy Gray recollecting messy business in rural Florida during the summer of 1969. It then bursts into the Southern-fried sweat of In the Heat of the Night, complete with a fat sheriff and investigations by an elegant black man (England’s David Oyelowo) and his do-gooding journalist buddy (a scar-sporting Matthew McConaughey).
There are hints of The Help, with Gray’s weary maid musing on her motherly relationship with the reporter’s directionless little brother, a would-be writer (Zac Efron). There’s also a ditzy newcomer, but instead of Jessica Chastain, we get Nicole Kidman, perfectly cast as a death-row groupie whose epistolary romance with a convicted murderer (a dead-eyed John Cusack) overlaps with the siblings’ misguided search for justice.
Now, add to that the art-directed sexual politics of a Todd Haynes film like Far From Heaven, Carl Hiaasen procedural novels, and David Lynch kinks mixed with the tawdry violence of antique exploitation movies. (Who doesn’t love shaky zooms, 1970s split-screen effects, and wah-wah guitars?) Throw in some backwoods degenerates straight outta Deliverance and, boy, you’ve got yourself some serious fish-head-and-gator stew on that there stove.
The result isn’t easy to digest, whatever your taste might be. The tale drags on, loses focus, and gets grisly to the point of numbness toward the end. But the actors—particularly Kidman, whose famously off-putting surgery makes her trailer-park Botticelli even more convincing—have such a rococo good time, you want to forgive the director’s random-excess approach and simply wallow in the trash with them. Just don’t count on respecting yourself when it’s over.
Watch the trailer for The Paperboy.