The Paperboy attempts to tell a story that has been told so many times through a variety of different movies. Writer/director Lee Daniels has essentially mixed and matched plots revolving around a bunch of offensive topics, such as racism, misogyny, and homophobia. There are so many awkward tonal changes that the film loses all sense of direction. These inconsistencies tell audiences that this writer/director isn't exactly sure where the plot should go next. Daniels is clearly trying to reinvent the success that originally scored him an Oscar nomination for Precious. However, he utterly fails in his attempt to emotionally engage audiences.
Taking place in the backwaters of steamy 1960s South Florida, reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and his partner, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) begin working on a new case brought in by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman). Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), attempts to help, but ultimately develops feelings for this new client, as the group creates their plan to prove the innocence of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a violent man Charlotte has been writing letters to. He's on death row for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff. As the investigation carries on, dark secrets begin to emerge.
This movie tries to sell itself through being as controversial as possible. There are multiple awkward sequences that will most certainly cause the raising of eyebrows. There are so many random erotic scenes that you might begin to believe that this story is just something to stitch the sexual encounters together. This movie pushes its boundaries as far as the R rating allows. When the film actually gives time to tell the story, you'll discover that this is a rather large mess. The entire plot revolves around getting Hillary Van Wetter out of jail. From the first few seconds he's on screen, he's already a disgusting and vile man. Why would audiences root for Ward to get this horrible person released from jail? The story makes you feel nothing but disgust for both the storyline and the characters.
Since this feature takes place in the 1960's, racism isn't a surprising element here. However, these small portions of the film provide what you'd expect from an R-rated version of The Help. Jack is friends with the maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray). These scenes feel completely out of place. This is yet another sub-plot viewers will sit through, waiting for something new to be brought to the table. There aren't any fresh concepts to be found here. The story progression is insanely tedious, as plot moves at the pace of a slug with a lot of arbitrary scenes in-between. Almost all of the characters are addicted to sex and we are left with no protagonist to get behind. By the time the credits are rolling, you'll feel drained and as if you just watched an explicit soap-opera.
The performances come in a mixed bag. Zac Efron tries to break out of his Disney image in the role of Jack Jansen. While High School Musical never comes to mind during the film, he simply isn't a very good actor. He fails to bring any sense of realism to the character. During every emotional scene, Efron is drooling and spitting beyond control, which is unintentionally funny. Matthew McConaughey is just fine as Ward Jansen. He's isn't groundbreaking, but he delivers a believable performance. John Cusack succeeds in making us absolutely despise his character, Hillary Van Wetter. Therefore, he's done his job. The strongest performance in The Paperboy is delivered by Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bless. She's incredibly convincing in the role of this troubled and promiscuous woman. Despite some of the horrible dialogue she's been given, she's perhaps one of the only positive things that can be said about this movie.
Writer/director Lee Daniels has an incredibly weak plot composed of blended up forms of a bunch of other stories we've seen elsewhere. He appears to be confused as to where he wishes this movie to go. The transitions between the drama and thriller genres are awful. Instead of creating something intriguing and engaging, this is a string of risqué sex scenes and racist sub-plots with a boring story to fill in the blanks. The Paperboy is a slow and overly melodramatic feature that really isn't sure what it wants to be. Skip it.