In several senses, Paparazzi is too good to be true. In its frantic editing, hammy acting, and ridiculous plotting, it is the compleat action film. The hero (Cole Hauser) comes to us straight off a cigarette ad with the implausibly iconic name Bo Laramie. (Savor that name—you’ll not come across one like it soon. I kept waiting for the scene where we find out his agent made it up and his real name is Marion Matuschanskayasky, but alas, it never came. That’s the kind of movie this is.) A truly mythic, Western-style hero, he’s come from Montana to bring frontier justice to a dusty little town called Hollywood. The bad guys he faces are so irretrievably, unremittingly, soullessly evil that one can only cheer when they meet their grim fates. Celebrity photography is portrayed as the only proper field for those whose natural gifts would, in another time, have led them to rape and pillage quiet northern European townships or torture heretics in the name of the Church.
Bo is such a good guy that when he drops his kid off at soccer practice he reminds him, “Only one thing matters, right?” “I know, Dad. Have fun,” the tyke dutifully replies. Aww. Jimmy Stewart at his most homely would choke on Bo’s cynically ingenuous conception. The film opens at the premiere of Bo’s blockbuster action movie, Adrenaline Force, which catapults him into the top ranks of celebrity, which, naturally, means that he’ll be relentlessly hounded by paparazzi, who will eventually take such a personal interest in making him miserable that they’ll damn near kill his wife and son in a scene that all-too-closely resembles the details of Princess Diana’s death. The depth of the filmmaker’s crassness is dazzling, in its way, like a Grand Canyon created solely by the moral erosion of greed and whorishness.
It may be of interest that Paparazzi is the first feature from director Paul Abascal. Previously he’s directed a number of television shows and worked as a hair stylist on a variety of films. His direction is a bit like hairstyling as well; everything’s perfectly in its place and none of it means a damned thing. The screenwriter, Forrest Smith, is another first-timer, but anyone who can pen a voiceover as lyrical as “Six months ago I couldn’t get arrested with a fresh corpse and a smoking gun,” should have a long, full career in Hollywood.
Another beauty comes from Tom Sizemore, who plays the lead paparazzo, Rex Harper: “Laramie, I’m going to destroy your life and eat your soul, and I can’t wait to do it.” No wasting time with morally complex villains, not for these kids. Sizemore chews the scenery as you’d expect he would, given dialogue like that, and it’s fun for a while, as he’s clearly relishing the sleazy, outsized role. When he and his cohort have caused the accident that nearly cripples Bo’s wife and leaves his son in a coma, they run to the car and begin shooting rolls and rolls of film, pausing only to pull the woman’s top down a bit for an extra inch or two of breast.
This is all very effective in getting the audience to work up antipathy toward the photographers, but wouldn’t it be nice if any of it made sense? The barrage of photographs of unconscious bodies by stationary photographers is silly—any two of those dozens of shots will be identical—but I’m willing to let that slide, as showing these guys run up, take two or three photos, and walk away, would be awfully uncinematic. What, though, of the larger issue of why any of this is happening? A paparazzo is no one’s idea of a role model, but their motivation isn’t a rich vein of pure evil running through their psyches; it’s money. And how much money could these folks make by focusing all their efforts on a new-minted movie star whose personal life is so wholesome and idyllic as to be tedious? Can they really sell magazines by putting this guy and his sickly sweet all-American family on the cover each and every week? Shouldn’t they be looking for Colin Farrell to stick his hand up a waitress’s skirt at Nobu?
But, of course, this movie takes place in no recognizable reality, despite the pointless cameos that seem intended to make it feel authentically Hollywood. Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, and Matthew McConaughey all drop in playing themselves, and each adds a snicker or two. Vaughn has a funny speech about a tabloid story saying Bo had a penile implant, but Gibson (who is one of the film’s producers) doesn’t speak in his scene, he just looks around as though he has no idea how he wound up in this movie. It’s distracting, but the film’s other cameo makes even less sense. Chris Rock appears not as himself but as a pizza delivery guy (can’t a brother get a break?) and seems to have wandered in from a completely different movie. His motormouth genius acting style is so out of sync with the dry, laconic Hauser that their scene feels like each was filmed separately, with no idea what the other would do or say.
While his wife recovers from her injuries in a painkiller-soaked haze and his son lies comatose, Bo finds himself at the scene of the mostly accidental death of one of the photographers pursuing him. Inspired, he begins rigging ingenious traps for the others. Unfortunately they aren’t so ingenious that he doesn’t leave behind Encyclopedia Brown-level clues for Detective Burton (Dennis Farina, who gives a TV-scaled performance that shamelessly mimics Peter Falk’s Columbo). The film builds to its inevitable climax; the good (though murderous, but no matter) guy wins, his son immediately wakes up from the coma (smart kid—he was spared almost the whole movie) and everything winds up hunky-dory, with the sequel to Adrenaline Force released to great success and Mrs. Bo happily knocked-up with a baby girl.
Paparazzi is vulgar in every imaginable sense, but this kind of schlock certainly has its adherents. The audience I watched it with really did cheer and clap as each villain met his demise; the film is satisfying in that sort of mindlessly vengeful way. In its gleeful tossing aside of any character development or plausibility of action and its embrace of brutal retaliation, it feeds the worst impulses in all of us. Perhaps the cheering mob felt cheapened afterward; I know I did, but Paparazzi is successful on its own debased terms. Its makers have achieved that most dubious of honors, almost doing well that which should not be done at all.
Jeremy C. Fox is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Paparazzi / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()