If the movie weren't done in such deadly earnest, it might have made a great cult-classic, 'so-bad-it's-good' flick, but as it is, it's simply bad.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"Paparazzo: a freelance photographer, esp. one who takes candid pictures of celebrities for publication. [1965–70; < It., from the surname of such a photographer in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1959)" --Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary

Ha! About the only things this film has in common with Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" is that they both concern tabloid photographers and they're both movies.

Clearly inspired by the tragic death of Princess Di, the 2004 release of "Paparazzi" seems to add to the very problem it ostensibly abhors. If the movie weren't done in such deadly earnest, it might have made a great cult-classic, "so-bad-it's-good" flick, but as it is, it's simply bad.

There is no question that movie stars and other celebrities pay a price for their fame; they give up their privacy and become public property, so to speak. But this movie so overstates the idea that it becomes more comically ludicrous than thrilling. Directed by first-timer Paul Abascal, whose previous directorial efforts were entirely in TV while working in theatrical productions as a hairdresser, the movie plods along with all the pacing and style of a garden-variety made-for-television product. Not even the performers seem to believe in the seriousness of what they're doing. They certainly aren't bad actors, especially those playing the villains. I believe they may have known something the director didn't--that this was going to be a really awful, over-the-top potboiler, and they just thought they'd have some fun with it while collecting a paycheck.

In the movie, Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is a handsome Hollywood action superstar with a beautiful wife (Robin Tunney) and a young son (Blake Bryan). As "Paparazzi" opens, Bo has just struck it rich in the megahit "Adrenaline Force" and is enjoying a blaze of glory. Bo Laramie? "Adrenaline Force"? I know this sounds like a satire, but believe me, it's not.

One afternoon shortly after the première of "Adrenaline Force," while Bo is playing in a park with his son, a ruthless photographer begins harassing the star by taking snapshots of the kid. Bo asks him to stop but the scoundrel eggs him on, and Bo slugs him, only to find himself surrounded by three more dastardly photo-terrorists who jump out of a nearby van with videotape they have of the whole affair. The journalist and his pals agree to a $500,000 settlement not to press assault charges, and a judge orders Bo to take "anger management" classes.

Not content with merely extorting half a million dollars from Bo, this gang of paparazzi thugs follow him and his family in their cars along a stretch of L.A. highway, causing Bo to have an accident in which his wife is severely injured and his son is put into a coma. With the passengers of the car unconscious, the photographers gleefully gather around the wreckage and take exclusive shots for their tabloid newspaper.

It's here the plot kicks into high gear. With his son in the hospital, his wife barely able to walk, and the police helpless to do anything about the miscreants responsible, Bo decides to take matters into his own hands. Remember those old Charles Bronson "Death Wish" movies, where hoodlums rape and murder the character's wife, so he goes after all the baddies in the city as a one-man vigilante committee? Well, "Paparazzi" soon becomes a typical revenge picture, too, and it isn't a pretty sight.

The evil "photojournalists" are played with wonderfully misplaced relish by Tom Sizemore, Kevin Gage, Tom Hollander, and Daniel Baldwin. A more bedraggled and bloodthirsty crew you wouldn't find on Devil's Island. While Sizemore always plays a good heavy ("I'm going to destroy your life and eat your soul," he tells Bo, with a straight face that only a great actor could pull off), I especially liked Gage's character, who looks and dresses like a Hell's Angel but whose hair is styled in Beverly Hills. If it weren't for the obvious enthusiasm (no matter how misguided) with which these actors attack their roles, the film would have had nothing to recommend it (not that it does anyway).

Before long it's hard to say whose side to take. Obviously, we're supposed to sympathize with the hero, but his actions become more repugnant than the photographers'. More so, since the paparazzi are only out for a bit of larceny, not for murder. It's even hard to tell where the sympathies of the police lie. Dennis Farina plays the cop, Detective Burton, investigating Bo's accident and the subsequent deaths of several of the paparazzi involved, and we wonder throughout the story if he isn't aware of and winking at Bo's actions. What does this say about the filmmakers' contempt for law and order? What does it say about the country's frustrations with injustice? But, worst of all, what does it say about basic human nature? Nothing good, I assure you.

"Everyone wants to have steak, but nobody wants to date the butcher," says Sizemore in another of the film's apparently serious remarks. I mean, who talks like that? It's hard for me even to type the sentence without cracking up. And the ending of the picture is just as corny, melodramatic, and unintentionally amusing as the rest of the proceedings.

We also get a load of Hollywood cameos to spice things up and lend a note of reality to the show, but they only serve to point up the comedy aspects of the plot. Mel Gibson, who co-produced the film (shame on him), sits in a waiting room reading a magazine; Chris Rock drives up to Bo's house with a pizza delivery; Matthew McConaughey and Vince Vaughn appear as themselves on the studio lot. Why? As a last-ditch effort to save a lost cause? Because somebody thought it would be cute to have viewers nudge one another and say, "Oh, look, it's so-and-so"?

OK, this has to be a comedy, right?

Believe it or not, when I first saw the lobby posters for "Paparazzi," I thought it might be another gritty, hard-hitting Michael Mann-type look at Los Angelenos and celebrity-press relations. Boy, was I wrong.

I almost always love Fox's transfers, so I can't explain what happened here. The picture is presented in both a widescreen and fullscreen ratio on flip sides of the same disc. The widescreen measures a ratio approximately 2.13:1 across my standard-screen HD television, it's anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen TVs), and it utilizes a reasonably high bit rate. Yet the video quality is generally poor. I'm not just talking about the fullscreen being a pan-and-scan affair that cuts out over a third of the screen image left and right. I'm talking about the widescreen image being so dark that faces are most often a bright orange. Colors are on the gaudy side to begin with, and what with the deepness and darkness of the transfer, everything looks a lot less real than anything does in the world around us. After a while the colors start to grate on the eyes. Definition also suffers from the oversaturation of colors, but at least there is little very grain in evidence.

The English audio track is reproduced via Dolby Digital 5.1, and while it does its job efficiently, there is little it does to recommend it as state-of-the-art. Bass and frequency response are modest; dynamics are moderate; background noise is nil. The surrounds are used for some minor musical ambience enhancement, some screeching tires, a couple of police sirens, and a few snapping cameras. At least it's unobtrusive sound, even if it doesn't impress one in any particular way.

The movie comes on a dual-sided disc, accommodating both screen formats and a few extras. Side A contains the feature film in fullscreen; the Dolby Digital 5.1 English soundtrack; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English and Spanish subtitles; and sixteen scene selections. In addition, it has an audio commentary by director Paul Abascal, which seemed pleasant and unassuming, yet informative, the opposite of the movie; a very brief "Inside Look" at Fox's "Elektra"; and an unexceptional, eight-minute featurette, "The Stunts of Paparazzi," that takes us behind-the-scenes of the making of several action shots.

Side B contains the feature film in widescreen, plus many of the same things that are on side A: the Dolby Digital 5.1 English soundtrack; the English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; the English and Spanish subtitles; the audio commentary by director Paul Abascal; the sixteen scene selections; and the "Inside Look" at "Elektra." In addition, it has three very brief deleted scenes with optional commentary, each scene under a minute and in rather less-than-ideal picture quality; a theatrical trailer in a 1.78:1 screen ratio (so you get to see parts of this movie in three different screen dimensions on one disc, sort of a first); and the four-minute featurette, "The Making of Paparazzi," which is really just an extended trailer with a few filmmaker comments thrown in.

Parting Shots:
At best "Paparazzi" has, as I've said, the look of a common made-for-TV movie, where neither the script nor the acting are especially accomplished, and the whole thing just slogs along from one ridiculous situation to the next. Surely, we cannot doubt the gravity of the predicaments the main character finds himself in, but they are so clichéd, so exaggerated, and so unlikely, escalating as the film goes on, it's hard not to find the whole thing funny rather than exciting. Maybe it's best to think of it as an unintentional howler, but not one that bears repeated watching.


Film Value