Revenge fantasy 

A review of Paparazzi

click to enlarge Three photographers stalk their prey in Paparazzi.
  • Three photographers stalk their prey in Paparazzi.

Paparazzi (PG-13)
20th Century Fox

It's not a good sign when a director's primary claim to fame is as Mel Gibson's former hair stylist. So it is that debut director Paul Abascal has made a tacky revenge thriller that draws on the same antagonistic relationship between paparazzi photographers and celebrities that caused the untimely death of Princess Diana. Cole Hauser plays Bo Laramie, a rising Hollywood action-movie star who goes on the warpath against four tabloid-crazed paparazzi responsible for causing a car accident that nearly kills his wife Abby (Robin Tunney from Vertical Limit) and their 8-year-old son Zach (Blake Bryan). Dennis Farina (from Snatch) plays a Rockford Files-styled detective investigating the trail of paparazzi victims Hauser leaves behind. Tunney is scarcely visible in this formula thriller that features doltish cameos by Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson and Chris Rock.

Paparazzi is co-produced by Mel Gibson and follows The Passion of the Christ in furthering a theme of retribution with a plot filled with holes and inconsistencies. The film was released without press previews (another bad sign) on Labor Day weekend in a ditching effort to recoup some fraction of the film's final cost.

Hotshot actor Laramie is a soft-spoken yet deadly serious Midwestern guy who has recently arrived as a box-office draw and as such is at last enjoying the finer things in life with his lovely wife and soccer-playing son. Adversity strikes when the movie star attends one of his son's soccer games in a public park and notices a photographer named Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore of Red Planet) clicking photos in the distance. Laramie gives the paparazzi a polite but stern warning that eventually goes ignored and sends our famous everyman into a punching tizzy that's caught on film by Harper's three associate photographers hiding in a nearby van.

Laramie's unpleasant reception to fame is made complete after he is made to pay a sizable settlement to Harper and enter into anger-management therapy with a high-priced shrink. It's here that the plot starts to slip with an unsatisfied Harper declaring that he will "ruin Laramie's life and eat his soul" even though the photographer already has collected the considerable settlement from the actor. Sizemore's delivery of the spiteful line is nonetheless a thing of beauty and pops from the movie as a gut-churning sample of his character's cruel nature.

The brutal car accident that follows contains the earmarks of Princess Diana's final car ride, with camera flashes serving as bursts of violent aggression from hostile photographers. But the scene lacks the heart-stopping reality of such a horrible accident and, as such, places the narrative in a cartoon category of soft-core mock drama. While Laramie is barley scratched, his wife must have her spleen removed, and the civilian driver of another car dies at the scene.

With the audience properly prepped for the essential retribution that must ensue -- if Western culture is to retain its juvenile logic for problem solving -- Laramie dispenses with his four harassing paparazzi one by one.

Paparazzi can be viewed as a nightmare case scenario for media-hounded celebrities whose personal lives can, at any moment, become tabloid fodder. The premise expects that audiences will associate themselves with highly paid cultural icons oppressed by harassing photographers. But it's the same kind of mugs game whereby some minority voters attempt to elevate their underclass standing by allying themselves with Republicans in the unfounded hope that they will become part of the cultural elite by their distant association. It's a flawed premise to begin with, and it never ends well.

-- Cole Smithey

Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

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