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"Fulfills every actor's dream...but it does so with tepid enthusiasm and indiscernible rationale."
"Makes no attempt to substantiate the actions of the paparazzi."
"Somewhere between B movie and second-rate flash in the pan."
Paparazzi  

Cast

Bo Laramie: Cole Hauser
Abby Laramie: Robin Tunney
Zach Laramie: Blake Bryan
Rex Harper: Tom Sizemore
Detective Burton: Dennis Farina
Wendell Stokes: Daniel Baldwin
Leonard Clark: Tom Hollander
Kevin Rosner: Kevin Gage
Review September 2004

They're all over the supermarket. Tabloids exposing celebrities with hidden camera photos, off hour shots, and wild stories of sexual exploits, bizarre exaggerations, and mischief. Spreading gossip, lies, and occasionally an ounce of truth, these publications employ hundreds of persistent photographers known as paparazzi, who will do anything - lie, cheat, steal - to get the all important money shot. Produced by Mel Gibson, "Paparazzi" explores the fine line between photojournalism and celebrity stalking without taking itself too seriously. When a rising superstar, Bo Laramie, enters a new world of fame and fortune, he suddenly realizes that a group of paparazzi are determined to make his life hell. And after one of their photo expeditions nearly destroys his family, Laramie decides to take matters into his own hands. Written and directed by two first timers, "Paparazzi" fulfills every actor's dream - exacting revenge on those confounded photographers. But it does so with tepid enthusiasm and indiscernible rationale.

Bo Laramie has just elevated from sub zero to superhero. As the leading star of "Adrenaline Force," Laramie seems to have it all - a beautiful wife, an adoring son, and a plush Malibu pad on the beach. Yet with all of the good, there is a downside. His recent success has earned him a place in the tabloids; in particular, a sensational publication known as "Paparazzi." But even after appearing on the cover fully exposed with his wife, Laramie dismisses it as a part of the job. However, his patience runs out when a paparazzo appears at his son's soccer game, taking pictures of his family. Provoked into a confrontation, Laramie slugs the photographer in front of a watchful eye and is ultimately sentenced to undergo anger management therapy.

Unfortunately, the settlement from the assault is unable to soothe the pride of Rex Harper, paparazzi extraordinaire. Maliciously, he and his team become even more intent on making Laramie's life a living hell. Following a movie gala, the paparazzi ambush Laramie and his family, driving alongside and distracting them with blinding flashes. Forced into oncoming traffic, the Laramie's are involved in a fatal accident, leaving the wife Abby with significant internal injuries and the son Zach in a coma. Frustrated and angry with the law enforcement's inability to build a case and the continued harassment from Harper and the gang, Laramie takes matters into his own hands, exacting revenge on those directly responsible for hurting his loved ones.

"Paparazzi" is a terrific idea that doesn't quite pan out on the big screen. Conceptualized by Mel Gibson, who came up with the notion after several horror story confessionals with other actors, the film puts tabloid journalists on center stage, depicting them as vultures in search of their prey. Spending night after night in their cars, staking out locations and homes, infiltrating and invading the privacy of their victims, these photojournalists push all of the boundaries, earning them a notorious reputation. Just watch E!'s "Celebrities Uncensored" and you'll see just how intrusive they can get. In the past, numerous confrontations have been captured on film involving Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Tommy Lee, etc., but none have been more damning or unforgivable than the events leading up to Princess Diana's death. With or without intent, these legions of photo fanatics make life miserable for celebrities. And in the movie world, they make for plausible villains.

Out of all the available directors in Hollywood, Mel Gibson curiously chose his hairdresser, Paul Abascal. Abascal primped Gibson on the "Lethal Weapon" franchise and became a close confidant of the passionate producer. So close, that Gibson pitched this intriguing story to him and asked him to direct. Surprisingly, Abascal's work is not bad. He keeps things up-tempo, his transitions are smooth, and he ties everything together in the end. But his work is diminished and lacking in confidence because of an inadequate script. Written by rookie, Forrest Smith, "Paparazzi" is fraught with nonsensical activities and devoid of character depth. It introduces a psychologist who offers very little advice, it brings in a detective who cannot connect the dots between a pen and a prop gun, and it pits two individuals of the same intelligence quotient against one another to see who has the least amount of common sense.

Of most importance, the film fails because it makes no attempt to substantiate the actions of the paparazzi. In the film, they are depicted without a conscience, without a motive, and without recognition of law and consequence. In real life, the motivation is simple. Tabloids assign six figure bounties for photographs of celebrity weddings, babies, nudity, etc. And it inspires professional and amateurs alike to live out of their cars, to hide in trees, or rent submarines with telephoto lenses to capture their prize. But in the film, the paparazzi are stereotyped as evil because it's assumed to be their nature. Says Rex Harper, "I'm gonna destroy your life and eat your soul and I can't wait to do it." Such strong words fall on deaf ears because they are muttered without motivation. Is Harper jealous of Laramie's success? Is he behind in his rent and needs a money shot to survive? Does he still harbor ill will because Laramie hit him? Any of these reasons would bring validity to his actions; but none of them are offered.

Overall, the characters in "Paparazzi" provide very little distinction outside of revenge and wrongdoing. Cole Hauser fits the description of a prototypical action hero. He's tall, well built, and charismatic. And he's certain to garner a lot of attention for future action/adventure movies. But in this film, he seems to be struggling with Laramie's emotional core, projecting stoicism instead of distress and frustration. Heck, even the local grocery store clerk grieves more than he does! It's only when he's physically attacking a paparazzo that he displays any kind of emotion whatsoever - a sadistic smirk. Cast opposite Hauser is Tom Sizemore in the role of Rex Harper. Sizemore is at his best early on, when seducing two women in his defense of paparazzi morality. He's slick, egotistical, and convincing. But all of that delusional sophistication is quickly dismissed for single-minded retribution.

In a cinematic narrative, motivation is a necessary ingredient designed to explain causality. The absence of which challenges a film's credibility and realism. In "Paparazzi," we are only privy to Laramie's motivation - avenging his family's affliction. And you have to wonder if it is sufficient enough to encourage a murderous rampage. Yes, it is a satire. And yes, Mel Gibson's distaste for the paparazzi is dictating this dream. But far too many cinematic elements are missing in the interpretation, forcing "Paparazzi" to settle somewhere between B movie and second-rate flash in the pan.



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