I will say this for the film: it's certainly an interesting creation. Ostensibly the tale of a Miami reporter and his brother investigating the case of a man on death row in the hopes of getting him off, The Paperboy is really, best as I could tell, about hot, languid boredom occasionally broken up by fits of the mind or the flesh. Almost all the characters in the film hum with a needy, itching sexuality, in such a way that produces an inverse reaction in the viewer. There's anxiety, but certainly not arousal. Which is to say that the sight of Efron, playing Ward's brother Jack, traipsing around in the near-nude or Kidman, who wrote letters to Hillary in prison in which she promised herself to him for vague hothouse reasons, keening and moaning in sexual ecstasy is never terribly alluring. Daniels has made an ugly film about beautiful people doing sexy things completely unsexily.
He's also made a terminally plotless film, one filled with arbitrary moments that simply collide into each other with a mossy, fluidy squish but bear no other relation to one another. Why is the jellyfish pee scene in the movie? Damned if I know. Why does Daniels only devote one scene, literally one scene, to the discovery of information that might get Hillary out of the clink? A complete mystery. Perhaps the best evidence of the film's wandering lack of purpose is a character that Daniels spends a good deal of meaningless time on only to casually forget about a few scenes later. That character is Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), a black Londoner with a faint hint of swishiness about him who plans to do the eventual writing of the story that Ward is investigating. He's a black man in the backwoods of Florida in the 1960s, not the most welcoming of places, and so he is understandably prickly. He spars with Jack while alternately flirting with him, the same with Charlotte. The nature of his sexuality is teased at, but never fully illuminated, and then he, well, then he just disappears. Daniels gives us a lot of setup here and then drops his toy and wanders off in a different direction. The character is emblematic of the whole film, an easily distracted piece of pulp that is visually or aurally arresting from time to time, but ultimately signifies nothing.
At least the actors seems solidly invested. Here Kidman does a variation of her To Die For perky/naughty bunny routine, and it's effectively employed. One of her great strengths, and signature moves, as an actress is the way she can turn on a dime from slinky, giddy seduction (of any kind, not necessarily sexual) to a weary iciness. She's an expert at controlling the temperature of a scene, and here tries her damnedest to modulate her surroundings. But alas Daniels has turned the heat up too far even for her, so she exhausts herself and crumples like a dead flower. McConaughey also seems weary, downbeat, depressed, the reason for which is revealed in perhaps the film's most jarring sequence. The specifics involve a racially charged bit of extreme BDSM but that's all I'm gonna say about that. It's Matthew McConaughey like you've never seen him before! And like you may wish you had never seen him. Efron, bless his little heart, does an earnest job in a shamelessly exploitative role. Jack is a former college swimmer who was kicked out of school for a dumb prank and who now spends all of his aimless time lying around in bed and doing a weird mother/son flirting game with his father's (and soon-to-be stepmother's) maid, Anita (Macy Gray). Uninterested in girls his own age, Jack falls immediately head over, well, groin with Charlotte, though she mostly treats him like a helpful and adorable puppy. Efron is good at all that easy flirty stuff, but when the film arrives at its garish and out-of-nowhere moments of sincerity, his broad Disneyness even shines through all the gunk that Daniels has smeared on the lens. Every young actor with a squeaky past has to do this kind of film, this "I'm an adult now" assertion, but I'm not sure Efron quite understood the material before he signed on to this particular one. Though, it's hard to blame him. I don't think anyone understands the material.