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The Telegram
  • Movie review: ‘Paperboy’ delivers

  • If you’re a warm-blooded man who’s just been attacked by a jellyfish, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more appealing than Nicole Kidman to urinate on your wounds. Just ask Zac Efron. He famously uses her urine after such an incident in the addictively salacious sudser “The Paperboy.” And...
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  • If you’re a warm-blooded man who’s just been attacked by a jellyfish, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more appealing than Nicole Kidman to urinate on your wounds. Just ask Zac Efron. He famously uses her urine after such an incident in the addictively salacious sudser “The Paperboy.” And the tawdry tale parlays racism, crude sexuality and graphic violence into a sensationalized Southern gothic sure to appeal to the white-trash hillbilly in everyone.
    Well, everyone not easily offended, that is. If you’re bothered by frequent utterances of the “N-word” and the sight of Kidman spreading her talent – and her gams – wider than Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct,” you’re gonna wanna look away from this sick, sizzling display. But if you fancy seeing something akin to Tennessee Williams on crack, you’re not gonna wanna miss a morsel of the sex and dirt director Lee Daniels and his co-screenwriter Peter Dexter (based on his novel) dish out like grits and pork at a Confederate picnic. And, boy, does the ham dominate the menu, sampled by an emotive ensemble clueless about when to say when. And that’s definitely a good thing.
    Everyone, from respected stars like Kidman and John Cusack, to barely respected pretty boys like Efron and Matthew McConaughey, acts their brains out, shunning all sense of shame or reticence. And Daniels takes full advantage by brazenly exploiting every Southern cliché to the point of absurdity. But, alas, that’s about all “The Paperboy” has going for it, as cohesive storytelling takes a long, Florida vacation. Like your own paperboy, Daniels is all over the neighborhood delivering stale news, most of it concerning racism in the 1960s. Part crime drama, part character study, part coming-of-age comedy, and completely insane, “The Paperboy” is about as lurid as a film can get without exceeding an R rating. But take away all the peeing, sex and gator eviscerations, and there’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before, from sweating hard bodies to repressed black maids and the little white boys who love them. It’s like “The Help” seen through the wonky eyes of John Waters.
    It’s truly awful, too. But who cares when you’re having this much fun diving into the muck and squalor with some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars? Chief among them, Kidman, who ventures so far outside her comfort zone that you fear for her safety. If the material weren’t so trashy, she’d be a shoo-in for an Oscar nod for her seductive portrayal of Charlotte Bless, an Alabama gal with a hankerin’ to get inside the orange prison garb of her latest death-row pen pal, a convicted cop killer going by the only-in-the-movies name of Hillary Van Wetter (Cusack). Looking like Nic Cage on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Cusack chews scenery like Wes Welker chews up yardage. He swears he’s innocent; but even if Hillary didn’t kill the sheriff, it looks like only a matter of time before he kills somebody ... “somebody.”
    Page 2 of 2 - It’s a riveting performance, but somehow McConaughey finds a way to top it, playing Wade Jansen, a Miami reporter as cool and stiff as a Gulf breeze. He and fellow newsman Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo channeling Sidney Poitier), a black Brit about to get a harsh lesson in American racism, have returned to Wade’s hometown of Lately, Fla., looking to clear Hillary’s name. Assisting them on their quest are Wade’s kid brother Jack (Efron) and Charlotte, although the latter two spend more time flirting and exchanging suggestive dialogue than aiding an “innocent” man. Taking it all in as our eyes and ears is Macy Gray’s nanny/maid Anita, the film’s lone sympathetic character. Her narration is an unnecessary annoyance, but Gray is a revelation as the woman who raised Wade and Jack like her own, only to see them both betray her.
    Like Daniels’ last movie, the Oscar-winning “Precious,” “The Paperboy” is brimming with out-on-the-ledge performances. But also like “Precious,” Daniels’ skills as a director are noticeably lacking, from shot composition to tone to an inability to craft his film into something more than just the sum of its sporadically brilliant parts. It’s steamy all right, but it also can leave you steamed. But with Cusack, Efron and McConaughey at the top of their games, and Kidman blasting away with one of the dandiest portrayals ever of a smarter-than-she-looks, sex-crazed Dixie chick, “The Paperboy” is just too imaginatively bizarre to resist.

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