Paparazzi (2004)


USA. 2004.


Director – Paul Abascal, Screenplay – Forrest Smith, Producers – Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson & Stephen McEveety, Photography – Daryn Okada, Music – Brian Tyler, Music Supervisor – Ken Weiss, Visual Effects – CIS Hollywood (Supervisor – Bryan Hirota) & Howard A. Anderson Company, Special Effects Supervisor – Alan McConnell, Production Design – Robb Wilson King. Production Company – Icon Entertainment


Cole Hauser (Bo Laramie), Tom Sizemore (Rex Harper), Dennis Farina (Detective Burton), Robin Tunney (Abby Laramie), Daniel Baldwin (Wendell Stokes), Tom Hollander (Leonard Clark), Kevin Gage (Kevin Rosner), Fay Masterson (Marcy), Blake Bryan (Zach Laramie), Andi Eystad (Sierra), Jordan Baker (Dr Jennifer Kelly), Duane Davis (Reggie)


Actor Bo Laramie becomes a major new Hollywood star after appearing in the action film ‘Adrenaline Force’. Bo soon finds that this means that every aspect of his and his family’s life is open to invasion by paparazzi. When Bo finds photographer Rex Harper photographing his son at a soccer game, Harper provokes Bo to punch him – only for Harper to have a battalion of hidden photographers ready to capture the incident. Next, Harper and cohorts pursue Bo and his family on their way back from a premiere, surrounding their car in a high-speed chase and causing Bo to crash. As Bo and his family lie wounded, the paparazzi take photos and claim to police that they merely came upon the scene afterwards. As his son goes into a coma, Bo seethes with revenge. However, he is unable to press charges against the paparazzi for lack of evidence. By accident, he collides with one of the paparazzi, sending his motorcycle over the edge of a ravine. When he discovers who it is, he does nothing to help and lets the man fall to his death. Bo then takes it upon himself to contrive ways to eliminate each of the paparazzi.

Mel Gibson is an actor I have never particularly cared for one way or another. He has done some okay roles – the Mad Max series, Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1983) – although I couldn’t have cared less about most of his action roles and switched off at the cute and crazy Mel we got in the Lethal Weapon films. Mel’s stardom one suspects is less to do with any acting ability and more to do with the woman’s appeal audience. What I have liked about Mel is the occasions he has stepped behind the camera with directorial outings such as the underrated The Man Without a Face (1993) and the Oscar-winning Bravehart (1995). Come the 90s and as he entered into his 40s, Mel seemed to be stepping back from acting somewhat and taking on producing roles. His Icon Entertainment production company has backed often non-mainstream films such as Immortal Beloved (1994), Anna Karenina (1997), Spice World (1997) and The Singing Detective (2003) and arthouse directors as diverse as Atom Egoyan with Felicia’s Journey (1999) and Wim Wenders with The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), even Shakespeare adaptations with Corolianus (2011). 2004 started to seem like the year that Mel Gibson overreached himself in a production capacity. There were flops like the tv movie biopic of Evel Knievel (2004) and the sitcom Complete Savages (2004), while at the other end of the scale was Mel’s massively popular splatter movie depiction of the life of Jesus The Passion of the Christ (2004), which brought into stark relief Mel’s not terribly appealing religious convictions and views on the Jews as a race. Somewhere between the two lay Paparazzi.

Paparazzi was apparently based on an idea that Mel Gibson had, fed up with the intrusion of the paparazzi into his personal life. Indeed, you get the feeling that 2004 was suddenly the year that Mel Gibson suddenly started to stop playing the nice guy and let all the un-PC parts of him – his religious views, his desire to exact revenge against paparazzi – not merely run over but actually be enacted as fantasies on film. Paparazzi has the feel of a Hollywood vanity production. Mel himself makes an amusing cameo appearance as a patient in the psychologist’s waiting room and has roped in cameos from a host of other stars including Matthew McConaughey, Vince Vaughn and Chris Rock. The film is directed by Paul Abascal, a former hair stylist who performed coiffing duties for Mel on the first three Lethal Weapon films, as well as directed the video diary for Mel on Lethal Weapon 3 (1992). Abascal subsequently proved himself as a director on various he-man action tv series including episodes of America’s Most Wanted, Nash Bridges, Viper, The Sentinel, Freedom and Witchblade, before making his theatrical debut with Paparazzi.

Most of the press reacted negatively to Paparazzi, calling it trash. Certainly, if you have to consider Paparazzi as a celebrity ego trip, it is a work of vainglorious self-adulation, painting the star as a decent family man whose only real crime is his country boy naiveté and painting the paparazzi as sleazeballs of the highest order deservous of extermination for their, well for their sheer scuzziness. (A far more balanced view of paparazzi and stars, or at least one that regarded both sides as equally amoral, came in the CSI: Miami episode Stalkerazzi a few months earlier the same year). In truth though, Paparazzi is not a bad film, it just needs to be seen for what it is – an 1980s-styled exploitation film. View Paparazzi as an exploitation film and you can enjoy it for its undeniably slick production values, excellent photography and the reasonable degree of kinesis engendered by Paul Abascal as a director.

What makes Paparazzi a fascinatingly watchable film is the performance given by Tom Sizemore. Sizemore, whom one has always regarded as an underrated actor and whose career has been ironically eclipsed by the tabloid headlines he has started to accrue in real life, pulls out all stops and lets go with a scumball performance to end all scumball performances. The film is charged in a thoroughly tacky way whenever he is around. Where Paparazzi tends not to work is in the blank performance given by Cole Hauser, the son of Wings Hauser, an exploitation and action movie legend who would have made mincemeat out of the Tom Sizemore role himself a few years ago. Alas, Cole Hauser generates zero rapport with the audience and crucially fails to create any sympathy for what should be the entirely straightforward role of a family man whose personal space is violated.

Also the plot is weak. Some of the set-ups are contrived – the celebrity vehicular pursuit feels oddly grafted on for the sole purpose of drawing heavy-handed analogy to the fatal accident that killed Lady Di, as do some of the other scenarios like where Cole Hauser contrives to have Tom Hollander shot by police for holding a fake prop gun as he emerges from a car. The trail of clues followed by detective Dennis Farina is also half-assed – the scene where he lectures Cole Hauser on the way a coat is hung in a car ends up producing laughter from the audience.

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