The Paperboy comes down to the relationship between Efron and Kidman, but Kidman isn’t to-die-for this time around—and the movie knows it, making one wonder what the point of it all is.
There is nothing I say that can spoil The Paperboy. It was that way before I got here. Normally, I give just enough plot summary to give an idea of what the movie is about it for those who want to see it, and then offer my thoughts about it. But no one is going to want to see this. It takes your money without giving anything back in return like a broken vending machine.
The Paperboy starts out about the murder of a racist sheriff everyone hated. We never find out who did it and why, not with certainty. Hillary (John Cusack) is wrongly sent to prison (or is he?), and waits for the electric chair. When Miami Times reporters Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardly (David Oyelowo) arrive, he isn’t interested in telling his story. What he’s more interested in is having his love interest and benefactor Charlotte (Nicole Kidman) pretend to perform oral sex on him in front of everyone present.
This doesn’t sit well with Ward’s brother Jack (Zac Efron), the titular paperboy, who’s obsessed with Charlotte. We know that Charlotte is a trashy, dime-a-dozen floozy, but virginal Jack is blinded by his own libido. Kidman is not to-die-for here. “You have your whole life ahead of you, why would you want to settle down with me?” Charlotte asks Ward (I’m paraphrasing slightly). We wonder the same thing.
Jack works as a driver for Ward and Yardly, who do the detective work. Jack doesn’t do much else other than fantasize about Charlotte. He provides a point of view into the story, but it’s his maid Anita who provides the voice. Characters in movies whose sole purpose is narration is redundant; the camera shows us what we need to see. But here we have a movie where one character tells us what another character sees.
There’s a moment where Charlotte tells us it must be strange to hear her voice as we see a brief, modest love scene between Jack and Charlotte. It is strange, given that Charlotte tells the story to a reporter years after the events, not directly to the audience. Pointing it out is nitpicking, but my point here is that The Paperboy gets it wrong down to the last detail.
We don’t care if Jack gets the girl because the girl isn’t worth getting, not that he gets her. We don’t find out who killed the sheriff, not that we cared. Hillary gets off on false information, not that it matters to us one way or the other.
I wanted to walk out on this thing, not from hating it, but from having no investment in it. No one onscreen is likable, and there’s no sense of a problem in the story I needed to see solved. The Paperboy tries to coast on sex like so much pornography, but its stars are too shy to show us what all the fuss is about. A demure porno? I don’t see the point.