Monday, October 22, 2012

THE PAPERBOY (2012)

Written by Pete Dexter & Lee Daniels


Directed by Lee Daniels


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 17, 2012  7:55PM



Outrageously deranged and campy but still not particularly entertaining, "The Paperboy", the follow-up to the highly-acclaimed film, "Precious: Based on the Novel, "Push" by Sapphire" by director Lee Daniels, is a pumped-up, Southern Gothic murder mystery that the filmmaker shows little interest in resolving as he's more involved with creating a lurid, overheated atmosphere littered with eccentric and grotesque character-types. This might have been interesting to watch except it's all clumsily handled with a wildly incoherent script and allowing his top-notch actors to sink in the muddy swamp with such heavy-handed performances.

Set in a small, Florida town in the summer of 1969, this story is told through Anita (Macy Gray), a slightly loopy woman who worked as a maid for the Jansen family during the time of the murder of the highly disliked, racist sheriff. Another ornery and foul man, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) has been convicted of the crime and sits on death row but proclaims his innocence although he doesn't have much of an alibi. Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), now a reporter for the Miami Times, returns to his hometown to write about the case with a fellow journalist, Yardley (David Oyelowo), a black Brit who raises eyebrows as he demands to be respected by these townspeople. Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron) stills live at home with their father (Scott Glenn) who runs the local paper. Although he wants to write, Jack is unmotivated with the closes he gets to a newspaper is delivering them.

Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a hot-to-trot, bottle blonde who spends her time writing to convicts in the pursuit of a potential husband, connects with Van Wetter. He tells Charlotte that he didn't commit the murder and that's good enough for her, so she goes to Ward with boxes of evidence to help overturn Van Wetter's conviction. Jack soon finds his motivation in the charms of Charlotte and wants to help his brother on this case. They all work together to investigate, discovering that Van Wetter might have been set up which could lead to his freedom as well as a sensational exposé for the reporters.

Having enjoyed the previous films directed by Mr. Daniels which includes his poorly-reviewed first, "Shadowboxer"(that shares in the convoluted plotting and over-the-top drama yet still seems much more grounded than "The Paperboy")  but I'm puzzled by his third feature film as it's unclear whether he wanted to create a black comedy or melodramatic thriller or perhaps some sort of hybrid? Regardless, it doesn't work in any case as the film feels contrived with way too many gaping holes in this unconvincing story.

Although "The Paperboy" touches on the serious issue of race and the evolving relationship during this era  between the Southern whites who openly bristle at the idea of change and African-Americans who know full well that change isn't going to happen anytime soon but it takes a backseat to overly dramatic flourishes of feverish sexuality and brutal violence that leads to a film that is both unsettling and strangely amusing. A considerable amount of time and energy was put in to create an accurate feel of the period and the film looks great thanks to the work of cinematographer, Roberto Schaefer but it ends up feeling wasted as the editing is choppy and the tone unfocused.

I have always greatly admired Ms Kidman because she has always gravitated towards challenging material as she's a fearless and fully committed actress with no character too bizarre to handle. However, the Oscar winner may have met her match as her role of Charlotte is a cartoon maneater with Kidman made to look ridiculously garish with her skin the color of burnt toast, covered in more make-up that even a drag queen would dare wear. Then she is required to perform a hands-free, mutual masturbation jailhouse visit with Mr.Cusack (that has to be seen to believed) as well as the infamous jellyfish scene that involves Mr. Efron being urinated on by Ms Kidman. Like most of the cast, I'm sure she was motivated to work with Mr. Daniels due to the emotional power of "Precious" but this impassive mess is beneath her.

Although Ms Kidman is the one who is supposed to be delivering the sexy but its only the male stars who actually display some skin. The only purpose of Mr. Efron's appearance seems to be his willingness to perform in much of the film in his tighty-whiteys as he isn't given much else to offer. While Mr. McConaughey shows even more flesh than he did in this summer's hit stripper film, "Magic Mike" but his character's taste for rough trade as a punishment for his forbidden desires is disturbing. The actor appeared in another gruesomely violent Southern tale, "Killer Joe" but he is on a career high this year so this other, unfortunate bump will likely have little effect.

With "The Paperboy", Mr. Daniels drags us through a dark and unpleasant world, drenched in sleaze and savagery that leaves you with nothing more than a feeling that a bath is desperately needed.