R (strong sexual content, violence, strong language); 107 min.
In director Lee Daniels' jacked-up bayou melodrama The Paperboy, taken from the comparatively sane 1995 potboiler by Pete Dexter, charismatic actors do their damnedest not to turn into overactors in the service of a lurid Florida gothic tale. But let's be clear here: To say The Paperboy doesn't work is one thing; to say it's dull is a lie.
Coming off his successful and daringly intense adaptation of Precious, Daniels is trying to locate raw dramatic truth amid what orange juice brands call lots of pulp.
The script by Dexter and Daniels pushes the novel's action back to 1969, reassigning, with mixed success, the narrative voice to a supporting African-American domestic (Macy Gray) observing the doings and undoings of the white folk who can't keep their pants on, or can't handle the truth, or can't bury it properly.
Looking like her own drag queen, Nicole Kidman devours the role of Charlotte Bless, a Death Row-inmate groupie who has lost her heart to a convicted killer (John Cusack). Cusack's character has been convicted of killing a sheriff. Charlotte joins forces with secretive Miami reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), to exonerate him. Daniels' priorities in adapting The Paperboy were to make the story more racially diverse. Also, he has no interest in the timid end-run around the story's elements of closeted homosexuality, a la the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The actors here are fearless.
It is errant camp, which has the effect of undermining our involvement in the mystery.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Cinemark West Plano
-- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune