When I first saw the acclaimed drama "Precious" I was stuck by how real some of the performances were and how bad the overall direction was. It seemed a tad off, like a lame movie of the week, but I chocked it up to perhaps a style choice by Director Lee Daniels to give authenticity to the material. Having watched his latest "The Paperboy" I realize it was no choice. Daniels shows without a doubt here exactly what I had suspected when I first saw Precious – there is an amateur loose in the world of professionals.
Set in deep Florida in the 1960’s, Miami Times reporter Ward Jensen returns home in search of a story. Seems a local violent criminal on death row by the name of Hillary Van Wetter claims a local sheriff framed him for murder. Followed by his writing partner, a Wetter gal groupie and his own young and budding brother, Ward must solve the mystery behind Wetter’s story before it’s too late.
Sounds like a description for a tasty taut thriller, but in the hands of Daniels it’s nothing more than a few surprises surrounded by way too much exposition. Adapted from a novel with too much respect for the text, "The Paperboy" gets seriously bogged down with a ton of side stories and characters that go nowhere and do nothing. There’s a race angle (Macy Gray as an apathetic servant), coming of age stuff (see Zac Efron lust after a slutty Nicole Kidman!), and even time to throw in repressed homosexuality without a modicum of depth. The sole interesting suspense story behind The Paperboy of whether or not a man is guilt of murder is sadly only given partial time and even the man in question – a normally stellar John Cusack – is a thug with an unimpressive one-note sensibility. (I have to give Daniels credit here – it does take skill to make Cusack give a flat performance!) In fact, the whole cast here feels empty, hollow and like cardboard cutouts (yes, even the saucy Kidman, who’s dim bulb waif I just couldn’t get behind!), with the only some notable work by David Oyelowo as McConaughey’s sassy partner. But ultimately "The Paperboy" is uninspired in character and tone and it shows a serious lack of direction – someone bit off more then they could chew.
I’m not one to bash or point fingers often, but I say honesty in film criticism is the final frontier (Pete Hammond would disagree!) and if we don't call out those who do less then stellar work, then those who do become tainted. Daniels work feels like that of a TV director who hit it big and getting named talent here has far from helped. As a sad staging of jumbled ideas "The Paperboy" delivers all right – a day late and a dollar short.
"THE PAPERBOY" OPENS OCT. 5TH IN THEATERS EVERYWHERE FROM MILLENNIUM ENTERTAINMENT.