Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy."

Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy." Credit: Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy."

The Paperboy
1.5 stars
Directed by Lee Daniels
Starring Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack
Rated R

Filmmaker Lee Daniels follows up his rapturously recieved "Precious" with "The Paperboy," a movie of far less consequence and import. There's a reason this sensationalistic melodrama garnered attention almost solely for an unprintable onscreen act star Nicole Kidman performs on Zac Efron after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Set in the swamps of Florida, circa the early '70s, the movie stars Efron as the aimless Jack Jansen, who seems content to spend his days lingering around in his underwear and hanging out with family maid Anita Chester (Macy Gray).

But his Miami-based reporter brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes to town with colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to report on convicted murderer Hillary (John Cusack), who might have been falsely accused and Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), a local woman engaged in a letter-writing romance with the prisoner. Jack falls hard for the mysterious Charlotte and comes along for the investigative ride.

This is overheated nonsense, a film that trades in eroticized fluff at the expense of actual drama or otherwise compelling content. Efron lingers around in various states of undress, wearing tight underwear and showing off his abs, while Kidman's Charlotte practically seems to slink out of her clothes from start to finish.

Daniels tries to mimick '70s cinema, with slow zooms and eliptical plotting among other familiar tropes, but he's missing the interesting characters and meaningful, resonant storytelling. The filmmaker alludes to racial tensions, alcoholism and other hot-button period taboos, but they jumble together in a soup of sweaty nonsense.

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