Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, David Oyelowo, Scott Glenn, Ned Bellamy, Nealla Gordon, Macy Gray
Written by: Lee Daniels, Peter Dexter, based on a novel by Peter Dexter
Directed by: Lee Daniels
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, violence and language
Running Time: 107
Date: 05/24/2012

The Paperboy (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Swamp Things

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Decades ago, there was a subgenre of drive-in and exploitation movies about a frightening class of horrible people that lived in swamps. The Paperboy could have been one of these, except that it doesn't feel like anyone is having much fun. Last time out, Lee Daniels earned an Oscar nomination for Precious, and it looks like he's throwing in everything (kitchen sink included) into this next one to prove he can do it again.

In hot sultry Florida of the 1960s, two journalists, Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), arrive in tiny Moat County to write a story about a prisoner, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who may have been wrongly convicted of murder. Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) also tags along; she has written to Hillary in prison, has fallen in love with him, and plans to marry him when he gets out. Unfortunately, Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), who is recruited to drive this motley crew around, has fallen for Charlotte. This volatile combination will most certainly lead to trouble, but will it also lead to murder?

One major mistake here is the casting of Zac Efron, who may be easy on the eyes, but has barely any personality. Whenever he's onscreen, which is most of the movie, the scenes deflate. He can't sustain any dramatic tension with his co-stars. Otherwise, Daniel's uneven, lopsided narrative goes too far in spots and not nearly far enough in others. He fails to generate any suspense, and, despite all the sex, fails to titillate. The only thing it does manage is a general sense of unpleasantness.

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