Lee Daniels follows the heart-on-sleeve emotional wallop of his 2009 indie hit ‘Precious’ with an all-at-sea adaptation of a Pete Dexter novel. It’s a story of murder, sex and race in late 1960s Florida that displays little consistency of style, tone or purpose – leaving its big-name cast, including Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman, totally adrift. The odd, fun moment of bite-your-tongue high camp emerges from the chaos, but mostly this just feels squalid and desperately awkward.
Ward (Matthew McConaughey) is a reporter from The Miami Times who returns to his hometown to investigate the murder of a sheriff. There’s already a sweaty fruitcake (John Cusack) in prison for the crime, but his racy pen pal-cum-new girlfriend, Charlotte (Kidman), is convinced they have the wrong guy. Working with Ward is his paperboy brother Jack (Efron) and an uptight British reporter, Yardley (David Oyelowo).
There are hints of blaxploitation movies in the shooting style but mostly ‘The Paperboy’ looks ugly and uncontrolled, with Daniels forever reaching into a stylistic lucky dip. The tone and focus are just as wild. One minute ‘The Paperboy’ grabs for crude comedy or racy vulgarity, the next it nods to swampy noir or issues of racial politics, sexual repression and generational divisions. The whole affair feels way off the mark.