Wow. Sometimes you see a movie and it’s hard to know where to start. There are several scenes which would normally only be seen in low-budget exploitation movies, and here those scenes are given the full commitment of the likes of Nicole Kidman, Jolhn Cusack and Matthew McConaughey. Normally I’d be fully behind this sort of lapse of judgment, but the problem is that they do it in support of such a terrible film.
The plot, as far as it can be called that, revolves around two brothers playd by McConaughey and Zac Efron – I’m reliably informed he’s a pinup for teenage girls, and he’s actually pretty good here, despite having to spend a lot of time walking around half-clothed. They have horrible parents, played by Scott Glenn (who looks like he wishes he had his agent’s number to hand) and some old boot with a clichéd line in racism. Then there’s a Death Row convict played by John Cusack who could have just chewed his way through the bars, Nicole Kidman as Cusack’s obsessed penfriend trying to gain his release, Macy Gray as the maid (more later) and David Oleyowo as McConaughey’s writer friend, playing an American imitating an Englishman (the opposite of real life).
Now I know that just listing a bunch of characters and giving them assorted secrets and neuroses doesn’t constitute a plot, I just wish that someone had told writer Pete Dexter and director Lee Daniels. To be fair, they must have suspected that the ‘story’ needed a little help, as they drag in Macy Gray to do a voice-over, presumably cos she’s the mumbliest actress they could find. This voiceover starts with her talking to a reporter, and ends up with her telling him things he must already know, and in the middle she starts talking directly to the audience. None of this helps in clearing anything up or providing any momentum to the story.
Given that storytelling is a foreign concept to Daniels, you would hope the visuals might compensate, but this seems to have been shot in 16mm, presumably in a bid to give it a grindhouse sheen. There’s a nice depth of focus to some shots, but as everything is in medium close-up, it has the visual appeal of a particularly sweaty episode of Magnum PI. The Floridian settings might be nice, but we only get to see them in the last few seconds. Added to this, there are some very odd bits of editing, including cross-cutting a sex scene with images of animals.
The big question you’ll be asking is: do the offensive scenes make this worth watching in even a prurient way? Well, Kidman looks terrific – too terrific, as she’s meant to be playing mutton dressed as lamb, but still looks too good to be the slightest bit slutty. And the budget obviously didn’t stretch to any nudity. On the other hand, if this is your sort of thing, you’ll never get to see her urinating on Zac Efron again.