One wonders if Lee Daniels actually reads the scripts his handed before shooting a movie. After watching The Paperboy, the answer seems to be no. Typically a director uses a tone and style that fits the story he’s trying to tell. In Daniels’ latest venture, he seemed more concerned with making a blaxploitation film, only lacking the material to do so. From the zoom-ins, long takes, overbearing music, and even a theme of racism, Daniels was much more interested in those aesthetics rather than a story about journalists digging into the case of a death row inmate.

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It would help Daniels if the script wanted you to care about the characters and their predicament. Instead, Daniels and writer Peter Dexter (who also wrote the novel) don’t give a reason to feel for any of the characters involved in this story. The why’s of the story are established, such as why Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) wants to help Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) get off of death row. Even if they were established, there’s not enough there for the audience to care about what’s happening.

Too bad, because there are some decent performances in here. John Cusack gives a disturbing performance as Hillary Van Wetter, creepy and unsettling. It’s a different turn for Cusack, whose used to playing a lovable schlub. He nails it, and does his best to help elevate the material. Reliable Matthew McConaughey turns in another solid performance as Ward Jansen, while Zac Efron carries the film as his brother Jack. It’s a good turn for Efron, wanting to shy away from the lighter fare he started his career with. He answers the call, it will be fun to see what he can do with a better script.

Unfortunately, not all performers are doing what they can to save the film. Nicole Kidman sleepwalks through her role as Charlotte Bless. She’s able to nail the pure selfishness of the character, but her accent is distracting, which is unusual for the normally strong Kidman. Scott Glenn plays Ward and Jack’s father and seems like he’d be better suited in another picture entirely.

Even with some decent performances, The Paperboy can’t overcome its boring script and out of place direction. Daniels isn’t a total waste as he’s able to get some strong performances from some of his actors, but none of them get you invested in the story or what’s happening. There’s no likable character to latch onto, and where it’s supposed to be Efron’s Jack, we’re never given a clear reason to jump on board with him. It doesn’t feel like Efron’s fault as much as it is Daniels not being interested in adapting the material properly.

With a better script, and a more competent way of telling the movie, maybe Daniels could have had a solid follow up to Precious. Instead, we’re left with a movie that really has no reason to exist. There’s no reason to care for the characters or their plight, and Daniels direction just doesn’t seem interested in this movie.