A man (John Cusack) convicted of killing a seedy sheriff is given a new life when a female pen pal (Nicole Kidman) enlists the aid of two journalists to try and get him off death row. PRECIOUS' Lee Daniels adapts Pete Dexter's novel.
Throw on some collard greens and get ready to gut that 'gator, because The Paperboy is settin' out a southern-fried feast, served one way: overheated. This adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel takes us to the steamy Florida of the late 1960s, where we witness the reopening of a case involving a scummy local (John Cusack, convincing), now on death row, and whether he really did kill a lawman some years before. The convict has a sexed-up pen pal (Nicole Kidman, also convincing) drumming up interest in the case, which is presumably how she got two Miami newspaper reporters to snoop around. They're played by Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo (Red Tails), the latter a particularly puzzling presence to the locals because he is both black and British-accented. Toss in McConaughey's bored little bro (Zac Efron), and you've got the makings for a decent potboiler--except there's nothing decent about director Lee (Precious) Daniels's design for this material. He pours on the sweat, the sex, and the faux-1970 look (yep, there's some split-screen in there), and reaches some kind of trash-movie nadir with a pair of WTF sequences: a jailhouse visit that becomes an exercise in remote sex, and the spectacle of Kidman urinating on Efron's jellyfish-stung body (sometimes the old folk remedies are the best, it seems). Oh, and alligators are indeed cut open--not once, but twice. Lost in this craziness is whatever tension the actual investigation might have provided, as the hothouse needs of the characters overwhelm the mystery. But by then you'll know the real mystery is "How did this thing get made?" --Robert Horton