The Paperboy is from Precious creator Lee Daniels and it should be his triumphant return. Unfortunately, it is much more funny than fierce. Also, the movie is so much more than what it’s being known for, “The film where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron.”
The film takes place in 1969 while the world is experiencing seismic change. That socialital shift hasn't quite reached the rural Florida town where we find Efron, the son of a local newspaper editor (Scott Glenn). Efron gets pulled into a death row inmate’s plea for freedom. Efron’s brother is a famous newspaper reporter (Matthew McConaughey) from Miami who travels home to try to prove the innocence of John Cusack’s killer. McConaughey was contacted by a woman (Kidman) who is in “love” with the man facing the electric chair. She believes him to be innocent.
Problems arise almost immediately as the film cannot quite find its bearings. The Paperboy feels like it wants to be an old-school, swamp scorcher of a thriller. Instead, it appears to be nothing more than a series of actors trying their best to make something of material that never finds its way.
The film’s characters are solid. The premise is intriguing. Yet, there is something about the entire package that is just off. It’s not even the fact that there are a slew of incredibly uncomfortable scenes to watch… the “pee” scene is the least of them. Don’t get us started on the five-minute scene where Kidman meets Cusack for the first time with McConaughey, his writing partner (David Oyelowo) and Efron. Very little is said and the uncomfortable pitch is sky high -- let’s just leave it at that.
As The Paperboy trailer shows, the film recalls other Southern-fried films. It’s a The Mean Season meets Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. But Kidman’s character is no tragic Southern belle and McConaughey’s reporter is nowhere near as flushed out as Kurt Russell’s was in that 1985 film.
One can’t help but feel for the actors -- all turn in stellar performances, an amazing feat, considering the material they were given. Kidman in particular is drawn as a one-sided character, but the Oscar winner manages to give her misguided sexpot layers that were not on the page. There is a silver lining in all this The Paperboy confusion that is as thick as Florida humidity… Efron proves he is ready to play with the big boys and girls. He goes toe-to-toe with Kidman and McConaughey, where some might have thought he’d be the weak link.
In fact, the weak link is the story itself of a group of characters, who are less than savory, and don’t possess one redeeming quality where an audience can find any kind of affection.