In The Paperboy, a howlingly ludicrous, proudly scuzzy backwoods noir, Lee Daniels discards the thin veil of respectability that shrouded his Oscar-winning Precious. Adapted from the novel by Pete Dexter, his new film plops us down in sweltering 1969 Florida, where a reporter (Matthew McConaughey), his horny little brother (Zac Efron) and his black, British-accented writing partner (David Oyelowo) work to prove the innocence of a death-row inmate (John Cusack, outrageously miscast). Their crusade is something of an afterthought – an excuse to put this mismatched posse in the company of a sexed-up Nicole Kidman, who vamps shamelessly as the jailbird’s floozy on the outside. Perhaps you’ve heard about the scene where she pees on Efron to neutralise his jellyfish burns. That’s nothing compared to her first prison rendezvous with Cusack – a moment much more degrading than anything in Dogville.
In between scenes of sleazy bumping and grinding, racist Southern locals heap indignities on Oyelowo’s angry journalist and our narrator, a downtrodden maid (Macy Gray, somehow keeping her head above the rising tide of piss, sweat and other bodily fluids). Here and there, the movie resembles a Rob Zombie remake of In the Heat of the Night – all zooms, split screens and faint social outrage. Mostly, however, Daniels leaves his pretensions of seriousness at the door. There’s something almost satisfying about seeing this leering exploitation artist drop the illusion of nobility and get down and dirty.