My newspaper headline for The Paperboy would be: “Hot Mess” and not in a good, kinda campy way. It’s a creepy, sweaty melodrama set in the Florida Everglades circa 1969 — a jumble of sex and violence that never comes together into a coherent story. Director Lee Daniels, an Oscar nominee for “Precious,” was obviously going for something here, but what that was isn’t clear. What is clear is that he doesn’t shy away from scenes that will make you cringe — like the already infamous one where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron, or the one where she and John Cusack mime sex acts to get each other off in a prison visiting room.

The story is narrated in flashback by Anita (Macy Gray) a woman who used to work as a maid for the Jansen family. There are two Jansen brothers — Efron plays Jack, a competitive swimmer who’s Olympic dreams were dashed when he got kicked out of college and is now home delivering papers for his daddy — and Matthew McConaughey is Ward, the older brother who’s now a hotshot reporter in Miami, with some dark secrets to keep. Ward comes back home to investigate allegations that a man convicted of killing the local sheriff may be innocent, and he brings along his British writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowe) — who also happens to be black.

Kidman is Charlotte Bless, a bottle blonde, trailer trash nympho who has the bad habit of writing to men in prison. And she thinks she’s found her soulmate among her prison pen pals — the man convicted of killing the sheriff — a psychopathic swamp rat named Hillary Van Wetter (played with incredible creepiness by John Cusack). So she enlists the Miami journalists to help prove Hillary’s innocence. Young Jack acts as the crew’s “driver” and falls for the sexpot Charlotte almost immediately. That means he spends a good deal of his time fantasizing about her while he lays around in his tighty-whities as their investigation into the sheriff’s murder goes on through the sticky Florida summer.

Yes, there’s a murder mystery in there somewhere but it’s lost in the mish-mash of sweat, swamp and sex. There are also strong performances, particularly by Kidman and Cusack, but they aren’t enough to save the movie. I’m just gonna say it… The Paperboy does not deliver.

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