A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, R, 86 mins.

Directed by Paul Abascal / Written by Forrest Smith

Mel Gibson reaffirmed his own Christian faith early in 2004 with his ultraviolent love letter to Jesus’ last days in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.  That film, surprisingly, was an enormous box office smash the world over.  Gibson, with his box office, commercial, and artistic clout could make any film he wanted.  Now he has followed that film with what could be considered the worst follow up venture to a successful film ever. 

Okay, he did not step behind the director’s chair for the new revenge thriller PAPARAZZI, but he produced it, as the advertising that has blasted across the TV screens has pained to tell us.  Relatively speaking, the heavy usage of Gibson’s name as an advertising hook speaks volumes for the film, not to mention the shameless and desperate ways studios will do anything to sell a film.  Hell, even with the subject matter of the film - crazy paparazzi that gleefully stalk a star in the making – they should have named the film THE PASSION OF THE PAPARAZZI.  Nah…Gibson’s early film already had enough controversy, why regurgitate the title of that film in a blasphemous fashion and alienate potential filmgoers?  Well, then again, anything could have helped this film to be better.   

This film is an obnoxious and innocuous embarrassment already, and it’s astonishing that Gibson would even allow his relatively good name to be associated with it.  Instead of making a serious exploration into the seedy side of American celebrity culture, PAPARAZZI feels more enabled to be a pain-by-numbers revenge thriller that’s been done countless times in the past, and countless times better.  The film represents what I call “lowest common denominator entertainments”, one that panders to the small segment of the population that is still entertained by stories that provide one dimensional villains that we can blame our dilemmas on to which we can subsequently eradicate, consequence and quilt free, and live happily ever after.  If life were only so easy.

The revenge thriller is as old and tired of a genre as it gets, probably reaching its fever peak with Charles Bronson’s DEATH WISH in the early seventies.  The genre, in the right hands and done properly, can be entertaining and cathartic.  Clearly, there is nothing more therapeutic then seeing a down-on-his-luck hero battling a despicably evil and vile person for ultimate redemption and vengeance.  I think the other primary key to the revenge picture is the audience buy in to the main protagonist; we need for him/her to resonate deeply in us and we have to feel their trials and tribulations.  In simpler terms, we have to like them.  PAPARAZZI is populated by characters we never attach ourselves to because, well, they are all so dull and wooden. 

Not only that, but the screenplay is such mindless and unintentionally amusing dribble that does not seem to take its subject matter seriously at all.  It has been said that Gibson himself dreamt up the idea of a revenge thriller about paparazzi due to his own feelings about past altercations with those pesky photographers.  That’s revealing, especially considering that he must have felt strongly enough about his own experiences to allow himself to make a cameo is such a dead-dog of a film like this one.  Oh, Matthew McConaughey and Chris Rock also appear briefly, completely unaware of the fact that their small appearances alone make it all-the-more embarrassing for themselves.  I find it amazing that A list talent allowed their faces to be shown in such B grade film. 

As for the plot, it’s about as pedestrian and simple-minded as it gets.  Cole Hauser plays Bo Laramie, an up and coming workaholic actor who is just celebrating the recent success of his newest action film ADRENALINE FORCE (funny, all though this film I kept thinking that I wanted to see it instead) and is poised to make the sequel and make himself a worldwide star.  As the film opens he is seen attending a gala premiere with his wife (Robin Tunney) and son (Blake Bryan).  However, Bo soon realizes that being a big celebrity starts to have its natural and inevitable drawbacks.  When he takes his son to his soccer game he notices a strange man taking rapid shots of him. 

Of course, Bo does not like strange men taking photos of his son in public.  He walks over to the man, a photojournalist named Rex Harper (played with an effective amount of sleaze by Tom Sizemore), and politely asks him to stop.  Rex says he will, but continues to shoot away.  In a fit of rage, knocks Rex out with a right hook and feels vindicated, that is, of course, until a van pulls up with Rex’s other goon paparazzi pals and begins to snap pictures away at the scene of the punching.  Actually, the punch and altercation was a set up by Rex and was video taped and sold to the news.  Bo subsequently must settle with Rex and attend anger management counseling.  However, paying that dirtbag Rex a six-figure settlement is not enough for him, and he soon gathers up his troops to engage in an unholy paparazzi war on the unfortunate actor.  Dammit, where’s Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin when ya need them?  They would have been perfect members of an anti-paparazzi squad, having dealt with them in real life, but never mind. 

Needless to say, Rex and his henchmen manage, one night, to chase down Bo and his family in their car.  They blind Bo with so many flashbulbs going off that it results in him crashing his car and seriously injuring his wife and young son.  The young son slips into a coma and the wife has to have her spleen removed, both necessary ingredients to make the revenge soup simmer to a boiling frenzy.  Soon, it becomes clear that it will not be enough to “play nice” and ask these uncaring troglodytes to back off.  The paparazzi themselves don’t even back away after the accident, and even go to the trouble of planting cameras in Bo’s home.  Soon, before you know it, one paparazzi after another starts to die in all manners grotesque and disturbing, all at the hands (both indirectly and directly by Bo).  A police detective soon enters the picture, played by Dennis Farina in such a phoned in performance that would be made that much worse if he looked more bored, and begins to realize that maybe this hotshot actor had something to do with the murders, but proving that he did is a harder matter altogether.  Actually, proving it would be incredibly easy, but since this script is on automatic pilot, the good guy is justified and can't go to jail.

The two leads in the film – Hauser and Sizemore – are adequate, with the edge going to the latter.  Sizemore plays his paparazzi with such a desperate and money-grubbing, bottom feeder glee that playing it any sleazier would have made him metamorphosis into Mickey Rourke.  Cole Hauser, who many may remember from small roles in DAZED AND CONFUSED, GOOD WILL HUNTING, and PITCH BLACK, kind of plays the hero role earnestly, but he overwhelming lacks the charisma or charm to be really all that memorable or sympathetic.  Dennis Farina makes a congenial and well-mannered Columbo-esque investigator, but his character is so recycled from so manner other police procedurals you're just hoping that he’ll amount to something more than he actually does in the film.  The film only really breathes some life when Farrina appears, but only when he does its few and far between and largely inconsequential.

Saying that the performances are satisfactory is a gigantic compliment when comparing that to the story, which in itself is a horrendous mess.  The film is directed by Paul Abascal with all of the insight and intelligence that you would expect to see from a former hairdresser turned director (no, I am serious, it's true).  His style is okay, I guess, but it's his devotion to the telling the story, which is so dishonest, not to mention ignorant, with its own subject matter that you stare at the screen in disbelief more than one would want to.  The film is not just a cheeseball revenge thriller, but a malevolent piece of celebrity worship that is so senseless that it does not even allow the audience, not for one second, to see how both sides of the paparazzi battle would argue their case.   The film completely misses real opportunities to seriously explore the issue of paparazzi and the privacy (or lack there of) of modern celebrities. 

This film is so condescending in how self-serving it is, and never allows the audience to make up our own minds.  Rather, it feels the need to hammer home the nasty and dirty notion that all paparazzi are bitter, soulless, and harsh creatures that prey upon the poor old hapless celebrities.  Are celebrities that innocent and helpless to begin with?  Not only that, but what about the obsessed fans that sort of play a part in creating the paparazzi culture to begin with (paparazzi are just supplying what fans want, in one capacity).  I guess that I am of the belief that, once you make it big, you have to deal with a genuine lack of privacy in your life.  Does that mean that paparazzi have the right to plant cameras in your home?  No, but the moral issue itself is so circular and endless in nature that the film is too dopey to even remotely deal with it.  Nope, it goes for black and white delineations: paparazzi = bad, actors = good.

Even the motivations of the characters are unhinged from reality.  Firstly, there is no motivation for Rex and his cronies to really go after Bo, other than the cinematic convenience of quickly establishing a villain and a hero.  Also, why would the paparazzi want to go after the remarkable clean-cut figure that is Bo Laramie?  He’s cleaner and more sober than a priest on Sunday, so clearly he would not make for good copy, or scandalous copy for that matter.  It would also have to take a Herculean leap in logic to accept that the straight-arrow and kind Bo would turn obsessed murderer in a matter of days, all while completely disregarding the consequences of his actions.  We’d rather see Bo beat paparazzi over the head with a baseball bat and send another over a cliff on his motorcycle, all of which he does.  And, c’mon, any smart police investigator in the world would be able to trace the steps back to Bo and send him away, but the screenplay does not believe in such flights of realistic fancy. 

Yes, PAPARAZZI is just as brainless, self-indulgent, egregiously self-serving, and egomaniacal as its trailers have lead us all to believe.  I know that there is just a much better (and objective) story to be told about this subject matter.  Its kind of one of those thrillers where everything is broken down to its simplest core elements, so much that those elements are so abstracted from any segment of reality that you feel the need to know on the screenwriter’s door and make a citizen arrest on society’s behalf so he does not commit another cinematic crime.  This stupid exploration into paparazzi is unpleasant, vile, corrupt, and nasty to no end, and made me more bored by its proceedings that really wound up.  PAPARAZZI is a lot like those disposable cameras you can buy – cheap and rudimentary and provides you with instantly forgettable images of the poorest quality.  The film is burdened by all things awful, but on a positive it’s kind of amusingly bad, and finally Gibson’s real madness and psychosis is brought to fruition to the public with this film.  Hey, he’d had to be nuts to have his name in the credits for this baby.

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