“The Paperboy” isn’t just a mess. It’s a wet hot mess. This half-baked Southern gothic tale is fascinatingly watchable for a collection of disjointed moments. But there’s a difference between “fascinatingly watchable” and “good.”
In the steamy setting of late-’60s South Florida, the case of a death-row inmate (John Cusack) draws the attention of an investigative newspaper reporter (Matthew McConaughey) and a sultry prison groupie (a spray-tanned Nicole Kidman).
As the reporter’s younger brother (Zak Efron) gets caught up in the affair, he finds himself falling for Kidman’s minx. There’s sex. There’s violence. There’s gators.
Director Lee Daniels (an Oscar nominee for “Precious”) tries to turn up the lurid pulp. He misfires more than not. Scenes meant to shock or tantalize are often just plain uncomfortable.
The actors throw themselves in with a kind of campy glee, but again the results are more fascinating than good. Cusack tries to go creepy. Kidman tries to go vampy. McConaughey was a million times better in the similarly lurid white trash noir flick “Killer Joe.”
There’s a trainwreck quality that makes “The Paperboy” hard to look away from, but I recommend you try.