The Paperboy — New York Film Festival 2012
Openly anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynist, and racist, there’s something to offend nearly everyone in this wrongheaded ‘60s era sexploitation misadventure. Once assigned to Pedro Almodovar for directing duties, Pete Dexter’s pulp novel “Paris Trout” — about some of the dumbest fictional characters ever imagined — finds confused cinematic fulfillment in the hands of director/co-screenwriter Lee Daniels (“Precious”). Daniels draws from an incongruent batch of ‘70s films (“Deliverance” included) to create a fantasy hodgepodge whitesploitation drama calculated to shock, disgust, and arouse the viewer.
Zac Ephron continues to bring the kiss of death to every film he appears in — this time as Jack Jansen, a twentysomething beefcake dilatant who returns to his small-town Florida roots after being thrown out of college for an act of vandalism; he drained the school’s swimming pool. Genius. It’s the summer of ’69. The eternally horny Jack likes to lay around his family home in his tidy whities to see what kind of rise he can get out of African American housekeeper Anita (Macy Gray). Anita does narration duties to instill the movie with an illogical bird’s-eye narrative perspective. Note to filmmakers everywhere — show, don’t tell. Evidently, Lee Daniels never studied the rules of screenwriting 101. It gets worse. Much worse. Anita informs the audience about the murder of the town’s sheriff.
Enter Jack’s older brother Ward, a Miami reporter for the family newspaper. Ward brings with him his equally horny African-American colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo). Yardley speaks with a fake British accent that serves to draw more attention to the film’s purely fictional underpinnings. If you’re sensing a pattern, yes every character in the movie is starved for sex. Ward is the researcher; Yardley is the writer. The duo are in town to investigate questions surrounding the murder, allegedly by one Hillary Van Wetter, a swamp-living piece of white trash who has been keeping busy in prison writing love letters to Nicole Kidman’s Charlotte Bless — horny, natch. Ward, Jack, Yardley, and Charlotte team up to prove Hillary’s innocence that he might be freed to pursue a (cough) relationship with the supremely slutty Charlotte.
The movie plays its salacious trump cards during a few waywardly erotic scenes. The first arrives on the group’s initial visit to Hillary in jail. Not minding an audience, Hillary instigates a simultaneous masturbation session with Charlotte who has conveniently worn a super-short skirt to the appointment. She tears open her pantyhose at the crotch to reveal her womanhood for Hillary to openly pleasure himself. Charlotte’s exhibitionism flames Jack’s imagination. Ward too has some difficulty keeping his hands off his own privates.
A visit to the beach for Jack and Charlotte turns into an excuse for some gratuitous fetish play after Jack suffers multiple jellyfish stings. Charlotte fights off a trio of local girls for the right to pee on Jack’s wounds that cover his chest, back, and — you guessed it — his face. Plot leaps and character revelations come out of nowhere. Nothing is supported with any amount of logic.
If newspaper articles could get people out of jail, it would open up a whole new media stream. Every character on display is an artificial construct of vaguely pornographic intent. “The Paperboy” wants to be a hardcore porn movie. Indeed, the film could conceivably have been made into an interesting example of Hollywood A-list actors creating a new genre of reverse crossover porn. As a curiosity, “The Paperboy” reaches for a cult status that it is sure to achieve.
Rated R. 106 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)