In 2003, Matthew McConaughey starred in a film called Tiptoes that went straight to video. It might seem odd that this film would go straight to video, considering its cast included McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, and Peter Dinklage. But then you see what the film was about:
Two brothers - a dwarf (Rolfe) and one normal-sized (Steve). When Steve's girlfriend Carol becomes pregnant, the pair are fearful that the baby will inherit the dwarfism gene. Matters are complicated still further when she finds herself falling in love with Rolfe.
Yeah. Steve is played by McConaughey, Carol is played by Beckinsale, and Rolfe is played not by Dinklage, but by Gary Oldman. Seriously. ("He was on his knees," Beckinsale explained. "He was basically on his knees with a prosthetic part of his head and face and a hump and different kinds of harnesses to strap his arms back to make them short, and special clothes.") This is one of those movies that's so disastrously ill-conceived that it gets shuffled straight to DVD and the stars try to pretend it never happened. It's one of those movies that they always regret.
And I'm pretty sure it's not the most humiliating thing McConaughey has ever been in. Because I've seen The Paperboy.
The Paperboy, which was directed by Lee Daniels (whose Precious was similarly overwrought, albeit in a far more palatable way), is one of the worst movies of the year, maybe the last couple. It is soapy, overheated, lunatic schlock that those more charitable than myself will call "enjoyable trash" but is really just a stupid story incompetently told by a man who has no control of his instrument. Daniels loses track of scenes halfway through; he seems physically incapable of filming a scene that's more than just two characters talking to one another; and he constantly forgets what was happening in his film less than five minutes ago. He has a lurid, pulpy sensibility that can work when based in something resembling the real planet—like in Precious—but goes careering off a cliff when you have a story as ridiculous as this. Daniels's next film after this one is The Butler, which features actors playing past presidents, including Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan. If this film is any indication, there's gonna be a scene in which a dementia-addled Gipper wears one of Nancy's dresses. Daniels is a director who has no filter, no judgment, and no sense of narrative flow. I think he might be a crazy person.
But his one skill appears to be an ability to talk his actors into anything. The cast members of The Paperboy all do something to make themselves look stupid, and it's a credit to Daniels that he somehow convinced them to do it. This is a movie they will all hope gets to DVD as soon as possible, before anybody finds out. It's not that the actors are bad in the film. It's just that they're really good at doing the batshit things that Daniels asks them to do.
Let's go through the roll call of Embarrassing Things Lee Daniels Talked Famous Actors Into Doing In The Paperboy.
Zac Efron. Efron spends this entire film lying around in his underwear. All right, there are maybe three or four scenes in which he is wearing a shirt, but otherwise, it's just him in tighty whities, throughout the whole movie. There is no reason for this to be happening; it's hot out, but everyone else seems to find a way to put on some pants from time to time. He also mimes masturbating to Macy Gray. We've all been there, brother. The High School Musical heartthrob also calls a black character the N-word in as nasty a way as you can imagine. Oh, and at one point he has to lie still while Nicole Kidman pees on him. (We'll come back to that.)
John Cusack. Dobler seems to be having a good time playing against type as a psychotic murderer, though I'll say his Southern accent needs some work. There's one scene, however, when Cusack is forced to masturbate over his prison pants while staring at Nicole Kidman's crotch. Daniels, of course, makes sure to cut to a closeup of Cusack's semen staining said pants.
Matthew McConaughey. JK Livin' plays a "crusading" reporter for the Miami Times trying to free Cusack's murderer, for reasons the movie never bothers to explain. But he has a secret: He's gay! In most movies, being gay would be represented by some tender scenes with a lover, or a chaste kiss, or, you know, nothing at all, just regular people doing regular people things. Here? Here, we find out McConaughey is gay because he approaches two dudes in a bar, and, next thing you know, they have him hogtied and gagged in a hotel room, and there's blood everywhere. You see McConaughey's ass as often as you did in Magic Mike but in a vastly different context. I have no idea what the hell is going on with his character in this movie, but you sure do see him naked a lot.
Nicole Kidman. Hoo boy. All right, so whatever your thoughts about Nicole Kidman—I think she's a terrific actress; some find her too chilly; some just think it's terrifying that she was once married to Tom Cruise—she certainly goes, to paraphrase Tropic Thunder, Full Whore. Daniels basically asks her to be the trashiest, looniest, most pathetic, most oversexed blowsy noir blonde you can imagine, and boy, does she deliver. The best way to describe Nicole Kidman's crazy-ass performance is that the time you get a closeup of her crotch while she's peeing on Zac Efron is the second wildest thing involving Kidman. I'd say the first is when you get an extreme closeup of her crotch—like, nearly Sharon Stone-level extreme—as she has an orgasm while sitting 10 feet away from Cusack. These are not isolated moments; Kidman goes all-out as a loony dimwit sex bomb. She never once shies away from the extremes Daniels asks her to go to. Lemme tell you: She should have. They all should have.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.