Starring Cole Hauser, Robyn Tunney, Dennis Farina, Daniel Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Tom Hollander, Kevin Gage, Jordan Baker.
The best thing about this unmitigated waste of time and energy is that in telling you about it at least I might be able to spare you the waste of time of seeing it. What might have started out with the slender chance of being a good idea – a celebrity’s violent revenge on the unscrupulous paparazzi who caused personal injury to his family - has been so contaminated by its subject matter that it has lost all that might be of value. It’s a cardinal rule that if, for example, you want to portray boredom on the screen, you show it in a way that doesn’t make your audience bored. In this case, if you want to portray unscrupulous disregard and manipulation of the truth, it’s a good idea to avoid letting your audience see you are tarred with the same brush, giving the same murky feeling one gets from reading specious gossip. While Paparazzi doesn’t pretend to be anything but a shallow, action thriller, it has ended up being a low-level attempt to exert revenge on predatory, telephoto journalists, in which, like the tabloid mentality it criticises, basic credibility, any real ability to provoke thought and even entertainment have all been sacrificed to provoke the basest reactions of its audience.
There’s no doubt that for new stars on the red carpet of movie premieres the barracuda-like swarms of flashing camera lenses are overwhelming. In their private lives, candid telephoto shots of celebrities are frequently sensational leaders into salacious and malicious stories which are proportionately as far from the truth as the photographer from the subject. Innocent situations captured on camera are distorted, out of context, every day to sell magazines and yellow press tabloids. And the accusations against paparazzi involved in the car crash which killed Lady Diana and Dodi Fayed certainly played a central role in the premise of this movie, which also features a terrifying car crash.
That being the case, where it’s obvious that these parasites (ignoring the decent photojournalists out there for the moment) respect neither their subjects nor their audience, it would be refreshing for filmmakers at least to respect their audience by giving credible characters that are not black-and-white and as thin as film stock. It would be good to have a plot that holds together without glaring discrepancies and decent dialogue and direction that doesn’t insult the audience. But perhaps that is asking way too much, given that this is a first-time writer and that the director was formerly the hair stylist on producer Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon. The tone of the movie is all too easily that of spiteful resentment aired in Make-up, spawning a backlash against what may have been real grievances. To hit back with a revenge movie of this tone degrades the exercise to the level of its villains. Someone forgot that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Unfortunately we have come to expect stereotypical, one-dimensional characterisation in action thrillers. It’s a shame therefore that the decent actors in this movie are wasted, given no opportunity by the director to bring any depth. Even Cole Hauser’s Bo Laramie is given a character arc all the way from A to B.
A rising action star whose name suggests it was given him by an agent or publicist, he presents as a nice enough fellow, with a sweet young wife called Abbie (Robyn Tunney) and a cute kid called Zach (Blake Bryan). An unpretentious and naďf neophyte at first, Bo doesn’t pretend that the red carpet onslaught and gamut of flash-bulbs don’t completely overwhelm and even frighten him. At a kids’ soccer match he politely requests that the photojournalist snapping away at Zach from behind a tree refrain from photographing his kid, reasoning that there’s a security issue at stake and that he’s welcome to snap Bo himself. The photojournalist provokes fisticuffs and suddenly his van door opens to reveal a cluster of slimily grinning paparazzi, their black lenses like insect probosci, flashing and clicking away at Bo’s upraised fist in an apt image of predatory insect scavengers disturbed under a rock. So much for a terrific cinematic image – but this is only one example of the means the director uses to manipulate and provoke emotional reactions in the audience. The unremitting use of such techniques is wearying in the extreme.
A personal vendetta ensues with the photojournalist, Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), saying darkly ‘I’m going to destroy your life and eat your soul’, and he and three other evil-minded paparazzi appear completely focused on doing so. We know they’re nasty, (apart from their dialogue) because they’re all conveniently sleaze-tagged for us not only by their grubby appearance – living in surveillance vans doesn’t give a lot of time to wash or shave – but also in the police records of their various nefarious priors and in their treatment of women. The three paparazzi are played by Daniel Baldwin (as Wendell Stokes, a greasy, gluttonous-looking, scandal-minded leech), Tom Hollander (a glittery-eyed rodent called Leonard who favours a button cam) and Kevin Gage as the token unhygienic, long-haired biker Kevin Rosner whose unfortunate fate pivots Bo into an escalating retaliatory path. None of them have a single redeeming feature – which no doubt reflects Messrs Gibson and Co’s view of the breed and is supposed to allow us righteously to hate them as well. I’m not sure that fatally ambushing someone with a baseball bat is covered there, however.
The filmmakers make a collateral sideswipe at the mandatory anger-management therapist to whom Bo is ordered to pay $400 an hour for therapy he doesn’t think he needs. There’s the usual view of a superficial, stereotypical therapist who not only doesn’t listen but also spuriously gives Bo a journal ‘in which to put a face to his anger’. A cameo by Mel Gibson as an anxiety-ridden patient in the therapist’s waiting room, clutching his own multi-annotated journal, is out of place as an attempted moment of comic relief. It’s simply cringe-worthy.
Police Detective Burton (an elsewhere far more textured Dennis Farina) has obviously trained in the Columbo school and what could have sown suspenseful ambiguity about his own perhaps sympathetic-attitude-or-psychological-tactics in investigating Bo’s involvement in the deaths of two of the paparazzi is clumsily handled. The director appears to think his audience needs every clue flood-lit. A potential but predictable plot irony, where the cameramen themselves might be undone by hidden cameras is also given too little and could have been handled more elegantly. In the dish best served cold genre the tables could have been turned on the paparazzi far more inventively, using technology to expose them. But hey, Bo’s an action star, and so uses more immediate and aggressive means, including a helpfully labelled disposable cell phone to make a false 911 call, to dispose of Leonard in a blaze of bullets.
Twice adding annoyance where there definitely is too much already is when crucial dialogue is mumbled or muffled – once in the literal cliff-hanger and the second on the red carpet at the end, where we are meant to see Bo’s new-gained experience in giving the paparazzi as good as he gets in a way that doesn’t provoke vendettas.
Coming out of the movie I felt I’d been in a shower of manure for 84 minutes. Unlikely to change the serious issues around right-to-privacy vs fame and associate industries, it’s nevertheless an experience which might appeal to those who like to feast on toxic gossip, innuendo and gross generalisations in order to fuel fantasies of violent revenge. That’s entertainment, folks!
© Avril Carruthers, 2nd October 2004
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