From the opening shots, you instantly know that “The Paperboy” isn’t trying to take itself too seriously. It just wants to be campy and ridiculous fun. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that “The Paperboy” is anything but fun.
Pandering on for nearly two, messy hours, it persistently upchucks every possible controversial topic, in hopes that they will somehow mesh. Racism! Homosexuality! Sex! Murder! Alcoholism! Director Lee Daniels tries so hard to make the film as off-the-wall as possible that it never really works and, without a doubt, is one of the worst indie movies to open this year.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Daniels as a director – his poor film adaptation of “Precious” made what is a very disturbing novel into lazy Oscar-bait that too often played it safe. His work in “The Paperboy” is even more lackluster. His worst offense, in my opinion, is the way he seems to shove his own viewpoints on the audience – even when they are not always relevant to the story at hand.
Daniels is an African-American, openly gay director. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but why does he choose to focus on Zac Efron in his underwear when he’s not even speaking or involved in dialogue between other characters? And we get it, it was a horrible time for blacks in the South during the 1960’s, but can any of the black characters have dramatic storylines that pertain to something other than that? This film is advertised as a crime thriller, and yet, we can hardly go two or three minutes without jumping to another plot point that never is mentioned again.
Not a scene goes by without some sort of lewd act or sexual reference, even when it is absolutely irrelevant to what is happening. Some of the film’s most outlandish scenes are those involving a dirty deed – Nicole Kidman’s character pleasuring herself for her beau behind bars – while others just feel out of place. Seriously, why does the maid (Macy Gray) always ask Efron’s character about his masturbation? And the heavily hyped scene of Kidman urinating on Efron’s stingray wounds lasts about 10 seconds – absolutely no reason for everybody to get all worked up about it.
Kidman, as expected, gives the film’s most dynamic performance – happily chewing the scenery and knocking us dead in her eye-popping skintight attire. As a libidinous, vulnerable bombshell, Kidman is clearly having fun with what she’s given, which is more than most of the other performers can say. McConaughey phones it in as a closeted journalist chasing a grisly story, and Efron puts his best foot forward, but can hardly be taken seriously when Daniels would prefer to flaunt his body instead of anything resembling a performance.
While the artistic design and set dressings featured are quite impeccable, Daniels is unable to just sit there and let us fully appreciate their lavish detail. His constant quick cuts eliminate any sense of focus or cohesiveness, and don’t even get me started on his many dream sequences and hallucinations throughout, all of which look and feel preposterous. I’ve seen better editing in B-horror movies on Netflix, which is saying quite a lot.
I can see why big stars might have initially been attracted to this film – its an off-kilter addition to their resumes that could really let them flex their acting muscles had it been done correctly. Instead, “The Paperboy” is befuddled by Daniels’ own agenda and features one of the most mind-numbingly dull conclusions I’ve ever seen in a theater.
Even more disappointing than “The Paperboy” – which I never had high expectations for, to begin with – is the recent news that Daniels signed to direct Amy Adams in an upcoming Janis Joplin-biopic. As the late singer herself once sang, “Come on and cry, cry baby.”