Film review: The Paperboy (15)

‘YOU is a mess,” says Matthew McConaughey in one of the few moments of self-awareness in Lee ­Daniels’ film The Paperboy, a movie which combines crusading journalism, the 1960s and the kind of dream you might have if you went to see a Tennessee Williams revival and ate a wheel of Stilton for supper.

The Paperboy (15)

Director: Lee Daniels

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Running time: 107 minutes

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Already notorious for a scene where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, it turns out that this is one of the more tender and less lurid moments in a movie that has torture, alligator-gutting, John Cusack as a southern-fried jailbird, and a hysterical scene of ­mutual masturbation conducted from 12 feet away.

Based on a 1995 novel by ­Pete Dexter, the film is set in a sweaty bit of smalltown ­Florida where no one owns a fan and there seems to be a competition for Most Graceful Perspiration of the Year.

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For instance, Efron looks as if he’s been sprayed with sunflower oil as he teases his family’s maid (Macy Gray) and waits for his big brother to come home. Ward (McConaughey) is a journalist for a big paper who returns to his home town with a writing partner (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a creepy jailbird (Cusack) who may have been unjustly accused of murder, and whose case is ­being championed by his new girlfriend (Nicole Kidman), who decided he was the one for her after he wrote to her from jail.

The Paperboy is trashy in the sense that it feels like something pulled out of John ­Waters’ dustbin. The difference is that Waters has a keen sense of irony about his garish ­taboo-busters. I’m not sure what Lee Daniels’ purpose is. Three years ago, he made the sensational Precious, which turned the miserable life of an obese, illiterate teenage girl into an impressionistic overload that nevertheless seemed to fit with the disconnected life of its main character. However everything in The Paperboy is bonkers, including the fact that Macy Gray is our narrator, despite not being present at many of the events she’s describing.

It’s also a reminder of what a great 12 months Mc­Conaughey has had, with films like Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Bernie, and that The Paperboy is now bringing it to an end. It’s not that McConaughey is bad, but his character is an unbridgeable mixture, and in this marina of colourful loons, he’s like a haddock amongst koi carp.

An Oscar winner with ­nothing to prove or gain here, Kidman has made the oddest choice of all, as a southern-fried sexpot, who is savvy about her sexiness, and inexplicably drawn to men in jail because they complement her “dark side”. Several times in the movie, she admits to Efron that she is way too old for him, but neither Kidman nor Daniels seem to have grasped the poignancy and vulnerability of letting a fortysomething woman actually look her age. Instead, she looks like an aerobicised Hollywood actress with access to some ahead-of-its-time surgery. The only body more drooled over is Efron’s, who seems to spend most of the film minus the bottom half of his clothes. Some may find this alluring, but I couldn’t help thinking of Donald Duck.

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Missing is any sense of urgency about the murder case it is supposed to be investigating. Also missing is coherence, and any sense that this profane potboiler deserves much more than some disbelieving snorts when it comes to DVD. «

On general release from Friday

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Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot