Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Cinema File #92: "The Paperboy" Review

Is Nicole Kidman still the highest paid actress in Hollywood? I don't usually keep up on stuff like that, but after watching The Paperboy, if she is, she really needs to give some of that money back.

The Paperboy is the story of a group of journalists in the 70's trying to prove the innocence of a man on death row. Ordinarily my opening synopses are more involved than that, and truth be told there is much more to the story involving love, sex, death, and racial politics, but for the life of me I can't be bothered to try to describe this movie in any more detail than that, as anything resembling a story in this piece of crap does not merit the time and effort required. When I set about to watch this movie, a friend of mine noted it as "that movie where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron," and while I knew what scene he was talking about, I immediately thought to myself that surely there must be more to The Paperboy than that. No, there isn't. Not to say that that scene is even all that riveting or makes the film any better than it otherwise would have been. In fact its completely tangential to the story and seems to only be there for the shock value of it. For the record, there is no making this film better.

I don't even know what this movie is trying to do with itself. The grimy/campy setting examining the dark side of the southern way of life in the 70's admittedly has a lot of dramatic potential, but nothing is ever really done with it. The movie isn't saying anything about anything, and just sort of sits there, giving us mostly awful people we have very little reason to care about either doing incredibly vile things or having incredibly vile things happen to them. The style is interesting to a point, with a surreal washed out feel that evokes an actual 70's movie, but its undercut by a lot of needless artsy touches, mostly in fantasy and dream sequences, and needless to say, it does nothing to elevate us out of the vast empty void where our entertaining movie should be. Oh, and the whole thing is narrated by Macy Gray. Do you remember Macy Gray? She plays a maid who is evidently a police witness, even though her narration switches back and forth from realistic to omniscient, often speaking to the audience instead of the police and displaying knowledge that it doesn't seem like her character would have. More to the point, if you remember anything about Macy Gray, its that her voice is possibly the last one you would ever consider appropriate to narrate anything!

Kidman portrays a death row groupie in love with a man she's never met and only knows through letters, and I guess she's supposed to be a tragic figure that we're supposed to feel for, but she just comes off as falling somewhere on the trashy to crazy scale. When her man is finally freed and bounds through her door, the look on her face as her fantasy becomes a cruel reality was legitimately funny, but somehow I don't think that was the reaction it was meant to elicit. Otherwise she's just trying and failing at being a low rent seductress, and while I have to assume the hollow ick factor surrounding her lurid behavior was the intent, I can't say that intention was a worthwhile tack for the movie to take. Efron is the young impressionable boy who falls for Kidman's wiles, and he's fine for what he needs to do, but the character isn't strong enough to hold my interest. As seems almost predictable of late, the one stand out is Matthew McConaughey as the lead journalist, who plays the same character he always plays when not mouth raping Gina Gershon with a piece of chicken, and its a part I always love.

I guess if I can glean any sort of larger point from The Paperboy, its just about indulging in all that is wrong, so I suppose its fitting that it is so poorly constructed. Our two main threads, Efron's futile attempts at romance with Kidman's deluded temptress and the efforts of the two lawyers to free a wrongfully convicted man come together in the end only in the technical sense, but its so slipshod and anticlimactic that after spending so long waiting for a good movie to start, it almost gave me whiplash with how fast it ended without even trying to engage me. Then we get this subplot with McConaughey's character concerning his dangerous sexual proclivities, but the way its set up, its as if suddenly there's a new twist to the story, that maybe he's been attacked for digging too deep into something, only to discover via voice over that it was just kinky sex gone wrong. Nowhere are the poor choices of this film more evident than in the character played by John Cusack, who does his best Southern creep, but in such a way that completely destroys the credibility of the movie. For this kind of story to work, you need to sympathize with the man on death row and want to believe he is innocent, but at no point in this movie does that happen, and the idea that any of these characters believes he's innocent just makes them seem incredibly stupid even before they get him set free.

Prior to this movie, my least favorite major theatrical release of 2012 was The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, but at least with that film I understood what they were trying to do, so I had some structure within which to frame my disappointment at its failure. I've got nothing with this one. On my podcast, I've talked about my belief that the scene in Transformers 2 where John Tuturro's balls are thrown up at the screen is Michael Bay's way of encapsulating his feelings for his audience in a deliberate metaphor, tea bagging them all in the face with his movie. I don't know if Kidman peeing on Zac Efron's face was a deliberate attempt by Lee Daniels to tell us all what he thinks of us, but it is no less a metaphor for what this movie does to the people who watch it. I just got peed in the face by The Paperboy, and because I'm not a character in The Paperboy, that's not some weird fetish I'm into. It's just wrong. All of this is wrong, and not in a good way.

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