Ever since Princess Diana’s tragic death the paparazzi, those lovable characters who dedicate their lives to bettering society by taking unsolicited nude pictures of celebrities, have achieved a sort of fame of their own. First they got a TV show on E! to showcase their work. Now they even have their own full length feature film, creatively titled Paparazzi.
Of course, this latest offering from Mel Gibson’s production company, Icon Entertainment, does anything but shine a positive light on the shifty shutterbugs. Yet it doesn’t seem bent on turning the public completely against them, either. If anything it’s more of a fantasy revenge trip for anyone who has ever unexpectedly found themselves on the cover of The National Enquirer. The rest of us get to go along for what turns out to be a humorous and entertaining ride.
Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is living the Hollywood version of the American dream. A good ol’ boy from Montana (complete with country accent), Bo is catapulted to stardom with the release of his first action movie, Adrenaline Force. In a Beverly Hillbillies-do-Hollywood sort of way, he brings his family and his homegrown principles to Malibu where he plans to build a career producing, what else, more Adrenaline Force movies. He has the perfect life that we all imagine we would have if we were rich and famous actors. What could possibly go wrong?
Continuing his country life traditions, he takes his son to the local small town grocery store to get muffins for Saturday morning breakfast. He greets the girl behind the counter by name and they chit chat about his son’s soccer game. All is as it should be. But Bo begins to suspect that something’s very wrong with the world when he’s approached by a fan asking him to autograph the cover of a tabloid, complete with one nude Bo Laramie on the cover (little black censor box included). And here he was thinking the paparazzi didn’t go after nice people from Montana.
Matters worsen when Laramie is goaded into sucker punching Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), a particularly persistent paparazzi who won’t stop taking pictures of Bo’s family. In return for this vicious assault, all Rex wants is an apology. Well, that and half a million dollars. But Bo’s sense of pride won’t let him admit he was wrong, sending Rex and his team of sleazy paparazzi buddies (Daniel Baldwin, Tom Hollander, Kevin Gage) into a frenzied campaign to destroy Laramie’s life. Their efforts wind up causing a terrible accident that nearly kills Bo’s wife and son. Despite the generous help offered by LA Police Detective Burton (Dennis Farina), Bo is unable to prove that the paparazzi are at fault. So, like any good man of principles, Bo decides to take matters into his own hands. That’s when the fun really begins.
Right from the top it was hard to know just how seriously this movie wanted to be taken. After all, it does feature a main character named Bo Laramie, who is starring in a mock movie titled Adrenaline Force. I couldn’t help but crack a small, sarcastic smile at the movie’s start as country Bo innocently discussed the unfamiliar quirks of fame with his wife and son. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is no dramatic social commentary designed to move the audience to a deeper sympathy for paparazzi-ridden celebrities. Like a good action/suspense movie it takes things over the top and avoids any real condemnation of the paparazzi industry. It even manages to make the entire plot relatively enjoyable with a slight touch of self-mocking absurdity to keep things light-hearted.
What’s missing from this movie are strong elements of action and suspense. Paparazzi is the first big screen effort for director Paul Abascal. As an ex-hairstylist to the stars (he used to style hair for Mel during the early Lethal Weapon days), Paul knows his way around the paparazzi world, but he seems a little bit lost in the director’s chair. There’s no real edginess to the film’s tenser moments and its dialogue constantly comes across as trite and unoriginal.
While the film’s performances aren’t terrible, the actors seem to be without much guidance from their director. They wander from scene to scene without a strong sense of what’s going on in the big picture, kind of like Donny in The Big Lebowski, but in a bad way. The real gems are the creative guest appearances by ‘A’ list celebrities. Keep an eye out for Vince Vaughn and Matthew McConaughey as well as Chris Rock who does a clever turn as the only “black pizza delivery guy in Malibu”. Good ol’ Mel even manages to make an appearance in what may very well be the funniest two seconds of the whole movie.
Even with cheesy dialogue and muted action, Paparazzi still keeps a hefty pace and doesn’t let things get bogged down. I was proud that it never descended to any serious finger wagging at the paparazzi industry. Instead, it comes up with surprisingly creative ways of killing them off or otherwise ruining their lives, which is obviously more satisfying for us, the non-paparazzi hounded audience.
I’ll admit, I balked like most everyone else when I saw previews for this movie. But, despite low expectations that most people seemed to have for Paparazzi, I found it to be a fun little Friday night flick that’s a pleasant surprise in one of the most boring movie months of the year. All we have to do is hope that Paparazzi 2 isn’t in the works.
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