the_paperboy.jpg(AP)-Soaked in sweat and reeking of cigarettes, director Lee Daniels’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, is quite literally, a hot Southern mess.

The Paperboy has got sleazy characters wallowing in bloody crimes and sloppy sexuality, all of which seems even more lurid during a steamy summer in the racially divided Florida swamps of the late 1960s.

It’s certainly never boring, led by an accomplished cast of actors including Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack who seem all-too willing to get down and roll around in the muck.

It’s stylish trash, shot to look as if it were made during the period in which it takes place, with a mixture of gauzy, dreamlike imagery and startling, graphic intimacy. And yet, The Paperboy feels too scattered from a narrative perspective to have any kind of real emotional impact beyond simple, gratuitous shocks.

Strong individual moments make you wish the vision as a whole had been more focused. Daniels and Pete Dexter co-wrote the script, based on Dexter’s novel, about a hotshot Miami journalist (McConaughey) who returns to his hometown to investigate whether a greasy swamp rat named Hilary Van Wetter (Cusack) was placed wrongfully on death row for the murder of a local sheriff.

He and his writing partner (David Oyelowo) are there at the urging of the tarty, boozy Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who’s become Hilary’s prison pen-pal and true love.

Zac Efron, as McConaughey’s younger brother, serves as the group’s driver but mainly goes swimming and lies around in his tighty-whities all day. Because, you know, it’s really hot out there.