Zac Ephron stars as Jack Jansen, the virginal son of a newspaperman who tags along as his brother, Ward (Matthew McConaughey), investigates the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a backwater psychopath on death row who claims he was framed for the murder of the local sheriff. Certain that this is his career-making story, Ward delves into his research, immersing himself and his brother in a world that is as seedy and sordid as it is dangerous…You know, or is it? Cause if they had any sense at all, they’d go home to daddy and their privileged, insulated little life, and quit asking for trouble.
Insanely, the innocent, ripped, and smokin’ hot young Jack falls head over heels in love with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) a forty-something floozy with two kids (somewhere) and an infatuation with Hillary Van Wetter. She’s the kind of used-looking plastic beauty that’s instantly recognizable as trash, especially when you factor in her relationship with Van Wetter, which has existed solely through correspondence and supervised visits in prison. They’re not allowed to touch each other, but that doesn’t stop Charlotte from ripping through her pantyhose and touching herself in front of Jack, Ward, Hillary (seriously hot and bothered), and whatever prison officials happen to be in the room. You see that, Jack? That is a red flag. Your Barbie doll fantasy girl is actually one of those off-brand dolls from the toy aisle at Rite Aid.
Nevertheless, Jack is undeterred. He keeps sniffing around Charlotte like a forlorn puppy, dreaming of the day they can finally consummate their beautiful love. After all, she screamed at the other girls on the beach to get away so SHE could be the one to save him from jellyfish stings by peeing on him, and only a really worthwhile lady would do that for you. In the Sixties. In the prim and proper South. Not only is Jack’s attraction to Charlotte completely implausible, it’s hard to imagine Zac Ephron as a wide-eyed innocent or Nicole Kidman as anything other than…Nicole Kidman doing her freaky cougar temptress schtick. Rounding out the salacious goings-on, we discover Ward is gay after he is brutally assaulted. The film’s “shocking” moments serve only to punctuate an otherwise dull foray into swampy storytelling and Sixties melodrama.
You know a movie falls short of so-bad-it’s-good when you actively hate the characters, so the one true payoff in The Paperboy is the ending, which is every bit as calamitous as you might expect. Had any of the characters been remotely believable or relatable, The Paperboy might have been strangely fascinating, if not actually compelling.