84 mins, opening in cinemas on 11 November 2004.
Paparazzi has something of a split personality. It doesn’t seem
to know what it wants to be. Is it a thriller? Is it a
parody? Is it a serious commentary on the cult of the “star” and
the power of the press? Is it a plea for restrictions to the
First Amendment? Or is it just a dud?
Mel Gibson’s company, Icon Productions, is behind this
film. Icon’s previous film was the phenomenal box office
hit The Passion of the Christ (2004). Gibson is one of the producers,
and has a cameo spot in the film. The director is Paul
Abascal. This is his debut feature film. Previously he
worked as a director in TV, and before that he was Mel Gibson’s
hairdresser. The screenplay is also a debut, from former high
school English teacher and football coach, Forrest Smith. I think
the inexperience of both director and writer shows.
The cast is mostly interesting: Cole Hauser plays the lead, rejoicing
in the unlikely name of “Bo Laramie”. Hauser has had supporting
roles in films like Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993) and Good Will
Hunting (Van Sant, 1997). He makes a fairly bland superstar.
Tom Sizemore plays the worst of all paparazzi, giving a completely
over-the-top performance that surely must be intentional.
Sizemore is a strong character actor, and has appeared in many
successful films including Born on the Fourth of July (Stone, 1989) and
Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998). Daniel Baldwin plays another
paparazzo, again in broad caricature.
Each of Gibson, Sizemore, and Daniel’s brother, Alec Baldwin, have had
well-publicised run-ins with persistent press photographers.
Clearly these people have an axe to grind.
The plot is predictable. A Hollywood action-movie star, who is
also a loving husband and father and all-round good country boy, shoots
to stardom in his movies Adrenaline Force and Adrenaline Force 2.
But he discovers that his new-found fame comes at a price. People
will want to take photos of him, and his family. When the
paparazzi from Paparazzi magazine (!) take pictures at his son’s soccer
game, Bo gets mad and punches a photographer (Sizemore).
Sizemore’s character, in something of an overreaction, vows to “destroy
your life and eat your soul”.
With his two other paparazzi buddies, Sizemore’s character stalks Bo
and his family. They cause a Princess Diana-like car
accident. Bo’s wife and son are seriously injured: the son is in
a coma. The law is of course no help at all. No one seems
to connect the paparazzi with the accident until it is too late.
Bo has even been ordered, as a result of the punching incident, to
undergo anger management counselling. What option does Bo have, but to
go on a revenge rampage involving murder? Who wouldn’t?
The film’s position seems to be that Bo is justified in committing
murder because of what has happened to his family. There is no
discussion of ethics, no real voice of reason. Dennis Farina
plays a police detective investigating these events. At one point
I thought the film was about to get interesting, as Farina’s character
returned to Bo a piece of crucial evidence linking Bo to the death of
one of the paparazzi. Is he giving Bo permission to continue his
murder spree? But no, this plot point was just dropped.
Bo’s anger management counselling is treated as a joke: the
psychologist’s next client is Mel Gibson himself. Gibson has said that
he hopes the audience “enjoys the movie and understands that…the tongue
is firmly implanted in the cheek”. Much about the movie confirms
this. But on the other hand the violence is savage, the action is
realistic, and there is a definite divide between “good and “evil”.
If this were a serious film, there would have been some discussion of
the ethics of revenge, and the role of justification. If this
were a parody, the tone of the film would not have been as serious as
it is at times, and the violence would not have been as
realistic. If this were a good thriller, there would have been
another reel at the end, during which all the inconsistencies were
explained and the plot holes filled in. And there would be a more
satisfying ending. At only 84 minutes, the film definitely feels
as if something is missing.
In the end, Paparazzi seems to be suggesting that murder is the best
form of anger management. If that is so, then it is no wonder The
New York Times film critic described it as “this amazingly arrogant,