Paparazzi (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

It's all so very Princess Di.


Director: Paul Abascal
Cast: Cole Hauser, Robin Tunney, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, Daniel Baldwin, Tom Hollander, Kevin Gage, Blake Bryan
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-09-03
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Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is a movie star. His first moments in Paparazzi reveal just how difficult his chosen career can be. He leaves the safety of his limo -- and the warmly giddy support of his wife Abby (Robin Tunney) and young blond son Zach (Kevin Gage) -- for the gauntlet of the red carpet, where he finds that his splashy new action flick, Adrenaline Force, is all the rage. The camera lurches, the reporters yell and push, the flashbulbs sound like gunfire. Bo smiles and waves, pleased at this point to be so adored and appreciated, even amid such ominous commotion.

Poor Bo. A ruggedly independent sort from Montana (as his SUV's license plates insist), he can't possibly anticipate the evil about to be unleashed on him. He believes the deal he's signed with this devil of an entertainment industry is simple: he acts in a movie, he makes a lot of money, he signs some autographs and poses for some photos. He will pay dearly for his naïvete. According to Paparazzi -- produced by that most self-righteous of movie stars, Mel Gibson -- tab-style journalists (they know who they are) are vermin. And their self-appointed mission in life is to harass, abuse, exploit, and ultimately destroy their targets: as one photographer tells himself, "We are the last hunters."

When he tries to curtail access to his private life, Bo solicits the sinister interest of one cretin in particular, Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore). The day after the big premiere, Bo takes little Zach to soccer practice, where he's immediately troubled by the sight of Rex, snapping pictures of the child on the field. It's one thing to have himself on display on magazine racks all over the world, but really, Bo's mind-wheels are cranking, it's unsafe to have the child so exposed (this is why Michael Jackson's children wear those Mardi Gras masks, after all). Bo initially takes the high road, asking Rex politely to back off. Rex takes this as a dick-size competition thing, and so, though he pretends to acquiesce, he soon returns with a van full of his wild-eyed buddies, all snapping away when Bo punches Rex in the face.

Bam: one of these shots ends up on a tabloid cover (called, so cleverly, Paparazzi). Events and emotions escalate instantly. Bo is sentenced to anger management therapy, with a mild-mannered lady shrink who doesn't get what we call get -- he's only pretending to listen to her, all the while plotting revenge. This is okay though, because relentless Rex and his scurvy pals -- Wendell (Daniel Baldwin), Leonard (Tom Hollander), and Kevin (Devin Gage) -- deserve all kinds of maltreatment. They're not only egotistical and disgusting (they don't shave much, apparently don't bathe, and tend to sit around telling one another how terrific and misunderstood they all are), but they also don't have much in the way of lives outside their jobs. This in contrast to Bo, who works hard to maintain a personal existence that is separate from his career. Directed by Hollywood hair stylist Paul Abascal, Paparazzi asserts that Bo is the healthy, sympathetic figure. Surely it's only coincidence that he has the best hair.

Bo's own desire for payback also intensifies, but only in response to increasing threats and intrusions by the villains. These take a specific form one late night as the family's car is chased by the a squad of photographers, whose high-speed inclinations and red-light running cause a car wreck. This leaves Zach in a coma and Abby in such physical and spiritual pain that she's forced to take medication -- outside by the pool, by the open window, where she can be photographed, of course. I probably needn't mention that Rex and crew don't just cause the accident, but also leap from their vehicles to snap photos of the tangle of shiny metal and bloodied unconscious bodies. It's all so very Princess Di.

While this catastrophe brings in the cops -- or rather, one cop, an LA detective named Burton (Dennis Farina) -- it hardly changes the essential smackdown dynamic between Rex and Bo. They start going tit for tat, such that Rex actually mutters, while perusing the web in search of ways to get even: "I'm gonna destroy your life and eat your soul, and I can't wait to do it." Mwuuhahaahh!

Credited to Forrest Smith, the script turns bizarrely meta, in the sense that Bo the action star who likes to do his own stunts on the set of Adrenaline Force 2 becomes the action star of his own action movie life. Littered with cameos by stars who, we might guess, hate paparazzi like poison (including cameos (Vince Vaughn, Chris Rock, Matthew McConaughey, and yes, Gibson), the movie never takes a step back to enjoy its own excess. Bo takes himself very seriously and the movie, while happy to indulge in stereotypes (Kevin rides a motorcycle and wears leather, Wendell's house is filled with neon outlines of sexy ladies and other porn-shop paraphernalia, Rex lives on a boat, filthy and outfitted with the latest spy gizmos), is more distraught and angry than witty.

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