By: Henry J. Fromage (Six Beers) –
When I heard Lee Daniels, the director of Precious, was putting together a lurid, 60s-set thriller with a cast including Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, and David Oyelowo, and that it has even been selected to play In Competition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, I was all over it. Even the presence of Zac Efron didn’t scare me off. Then it debuted… to startling, hilariously negative reviews across the board. Guess that’s why other film festivals pre-screen their selections. Anyways, my anticipation level perversely grew with each creatively scathing review I read. How bad could it be?
Efron is a newspaperman’s son and glorified intern in a small Florida town scandalized by a high-profile murder case of a local sheriff. Cusack is a seedy swamp dweller accused of the crime and Efron’s brother, McConaughey and his British writing partner, Oyelowo, come back to town in an attempt to investigate the suspicious nature of the prosecution and get Cusack off of death row. Kidman is an oversexed bombshell with a habit of creating romances by mail with prisoners who’s gotten it into her head that Cusack is the love of her life.
He’s… dreamy? Nightmarey?
Daniels has a way with visuals, and flawlessly recreates the look and feel of a gritty 1970s pulp thriller here, with grainy/washed out photography and a sweltering production design that practically drenches you in sweat along with the characters. The soundtrack is a perfect complement to the visuals, and at least some of the actors got the smutty tone Daniels was going for, particularly McConaughey, who impresses me more and more with every role he takes these days. However, it’s Kidman who steals the show, giving herself completely over to her Bridget Bardot on smack persona in a performance that is truly a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo. Oyelowo is simply annoyingly anal retentive and one note and Cusack’s casting as a dirty, skeezy, and possibly psychopathic backwoods hick goes about as well as you’d expect… horrendously. He’s a joke- a surface level caricature that makes about as much sense as Lindsay Lohan playing Barry White.
At least the sounds coming out of her scarred voicebox might be deep enough.
Efron, surprisingly, isn’t terrible, but he’s shackled with an infuriatingly naïve character, and good god-damn, Daniels doesn’t miss one opportunity to get him into his tighty-whiteys. Michael Bay gets a lot of shit for making lust to his leading ladies with the camera, but even his most gratuitous Megan Fox pan isn’t half as obvious and panting as this.
Careful or your tongue will get stuck that way
The rest of the sexuality on display here s every bit as unsubtle. Nothing whatsoever is left to subtext, it’s all as over the top and in your face as possible. Of course Efron is reading Lolita on the beach. Of course he is. I guess the scenes of Cusack and Kidman consummating their nauseating affair intercut with the images of rotting animal carcasses counts as subtext? Either that or hackitude.
Even hackier is the script, absolutely chock-full of lines like “You ain’t even tired enough to be retired.” ‘Nuff said.
So, we’re left with the fact that Daniels accurately recreates the aesthetic of a certain kind of 70s smut flick. The problem is, those movies were pretty shitty, too. Daniels doesn’t elevate or even comment on the genre, he just reproduces it… which is the very definition of an inessential film.
You see, you gotta do a bit more than just copy an original
Yes, the rumors are true, Nicole Kidman straight up pisses on Zac Efron’s face, which is the only reason why this one will be remembered. If you watch this, you’re more likely to recollect Lee Daniels pissing on your face.
Take a Drink: every time Zac Efron is shown in various states of undress
Take a Drink: whenever something overtly and/or frighteningly sexual occurs
Take a Drink: when McConaughey’s contractually obligated ass shot shows up
Chug a Beer: while replacing liquid at the same rate Nicole Kidman loses it