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Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.

Pi
PAPARAZZI 2004
Icon Entertainment, 20th Century Fox
Rated: USA: PG-13

 


Right up until its release, PAPARAZZI drenched the theaters and television with trailers showing what the movie is about and how it will likely end. In other words, we know that the good guy gets attacked by bad guys and then comes after the bad guys one by one.

So all that's left, really, is knowing whether or not he will succeed. We already know, by the ads, that he will succeed at some of them. So when I go into a movie like this, I'm expecting surprises. I'm thinking that the film will now reveal things I wasn't led to expect from watching the trailer.

But it never did. I saw it all coming as did anyone who watched the previews and ads. In an odd way, that had its charm: delivering exactly what was promised. Unfortunately, it offered little more. The only minor surprises to be had were rather humorous cameos sprinkled throughout the film. These always came at precisely the right moment, when the film was right at the edge of dragging.

Director Paul Abascal (Previous directing credits include a TV episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT and WITCHBLADE - he also has a lot of hairstylist credits according to imdb.com) was entirely evenhanded with his direction here. Which is to say, it was very professional but not in the least creative. Paul knows how to get his shots, move his actors about, and, unlike some directors this summer, he knows not to blur the focus and otherwise jiggle and bounce the camera about as a substitute for action enhancement.

Yet PAPARAZZI plays very much to the crowd, as formulaic as you can imagine - which is no stretch. The screenplay, by Forrest Smith, throws together past stories of abuse by paparazzi, the centerpiece being the 1997 car accident/murder rumor of Princess Diana, her boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, and their friend Henri Paul at the hands of paparazzi in France. While later revealed to be just that, a rumor (the chasing paparazzi were too far behind to have caused the car accident with their flashbulbs, though they did gather around the accident like vermin and snap pictures of Diana as she died), the idea has remained that there is no depth to which paparazzi will not dive to get or invent a photograph.

Said accident occurs very quickly in the film. In most revenge fantasy movies, the story takes at least a good two thirds of the movie before the hero is able to get on track and successfully take revenge against his persecutors. Which is why these types of movies usually don't work. The storyline often has the hero unendingly tormented by various bureaucratic roadblocks of legalese while the antagonists are freely able to continue their crimes in a vacuum where cops and witnesses don't exist, except to finger our hero. By the time the audience gets halfway through the movie, they are so damned frustrated with the ridiculous situations that no ending is going to make them happy.

To its credit, PAPARAZZI avoids that.

Cole Hauser (PITCH BLACK) plays Bo Laramie, a good ol' Montana boy who just hit the big time with a surprise hit movie. He hasn't been in Hollywood long and so he's naive about photographers and how to deal with them. He still handles things the way one would in Montana (or Nebraska, Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, or most other civilized states), and that includes punching out sneering photographer, Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore: RELIC, ENEMY OF THE STATE, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, DREAMCATCHER) who gets right up in his face and brags about taking pictures of Cole's wife, Abby (Robin Tunney: THE CRAFT, END OF DAYS, SUPERNOVA) while she's getting dressed in their home.

We already saw that in the ads.

To Bo's surprise, Rex purposefully set him up with a van load of his friends in hiding, snapping pictures of the entire incident. Only in still photos though, no one has any idea that Rex goaded Bo into punching him.

We already saw that in the ads.

As part of Rex's winning lawsuit, Bo has to pay the sleazy photog half a million dollars and attend anger management therapy. To rub salt in the wound, Rex also wants a public apology, something that Bo refuses to give and this sets Rex off. Bo continues to make disparaging comments about Rex in public and Rex decides to make an example of Bo.

"I'm going to destroy your life and eat your soul," Rex tells a photograph of Bo. "And I can't wait to do it."

We saw that in the ads.

Rex enlists his buddies, all of whom work for the same tabloid, Paparazzi, to invent whatever slander they like to destroy Bo as a matter of intent and everyone else as a matter of sales. Nothing is too low, nothing is off limits, and the crew shows passion and gusto in going after Bo. Some of the Hollywood folk try to tell Bo to relax. Sleazy press is one of the wages of fame. But such reasoning was never good enough for Sean Penn or Tim Robbins so to hell with that. Bo briefly attempts to ignore Rex, which only leaves the man seething, until we arrive (within 15 minutes no less) at the Lady Di scene and Merry Mishaps occur.

We saw that and so on.

The sum of the car accident is that Abby has an amputation, his son, Zach (Blake Michael Bryan: JURASSIC PARK III) winds up in a coma, and the driver who unwittingly hit Bo's car winds up dead. Though the drive is used for some justification, we never learn anythinig about the victim's life. This movie is, after all, a Thriller, not Horror, and as such, value is not put on human life.

The cops, in the form of Detective Burton (Dennis Farina: MANHUNTER, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), have reason to believe that the paparazzi hounding Bo were in on it, not the least of which, is Bo's eyewitness account, but the sleazoids blame the accident on Bo's alleged drinking and they are the ones that get the attention.

Even after this tragedy, the paparazzi are still not through with Bo. They hound him in the hospital, they harass him at his home, and at every turn the police are powerless to stop them.

So the only angle left is for Bo to take the law in his own hands, naturally.

Naturally, that is, within the logic of this movie.

To it's credit, PAPARAZZI clearly delineates the line between regular celebrity photographers and this small, special brand of scum. My wife is a professional photographer and at no time did I feel that this movie could possibly target her or her peers in any way. But this film definitely paints a bright red target on certain sleezeoids in the trade. Also, Cole Hauser manages to rise above the mediocre script and average direction. Cole has a very expressive face and physical presence, and combined with the simple "aw shucks" attitude of his character (which sometimes veers dangerously close to parody), elevates PAPARAZZI to a higher place than it deserves. Cole, the actor, is likable in this flick, and so is his portrayal of Bo. It wouldn't be the first time that an actor shone in an awful flick.

In fact, if such a thing can be said, this is probably the first feel-good murderous revenge flick I've ever seen. Even in 1974's DEATHWISH, Paul Kersey's moments of revenge were coupled with his suffering the death of his beloved wife; the raped and beaten to insanity of his daughter, and the continued harassment of the perpetrators on Paul's community. Paul was also keenly aware of the toll his rampage was taking on his mind. Paul had to enter the filthy underworld of his prey in order to catch them. In order to return to normal society, Paul had to further justify his actions with a frontier mentality.

Bo is clean - nearly sterilized - of such feelings. Bo doesn't need to sink into the world of the Paparazzi because they eagerly swim up to him. This repulsive foursome, so actively chasing their fate, were easy to despise. The audience cheered and applauded the comeuppance of every Paparazzi in the movie. Such a movie, which could normally bog down with the weight of its own subject matter, kept things rolling fast enough, and with enough morbid humor, to satisfy its audience. Couple that with the fact that Bo's son is in a coma, and you can nearly guess the outcome of that situation the moment you hear of it.

Producer Mel Gibson (SUMMER CITY, MAD MAX, THE CHAIN REACTION, THE ROAD WARRIOR, BEYOND THUNDERDOME, LETHAL WEAPON, CONSPIRACY THEORY, PAYBACK, SIGNS), no stranger to slanderous media himself, has in the last few years, taken on the entire "Hollywood media machine" (which is, appallingly, baring its teeth this election year) and beaten it to a pulp by making a movie with audience appeal first and foremost. The movie he did this with, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, had a great opening weekend, in the U.S., because of all the bad press. But then it went on to a great 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th weekend simply because it was that good. Then it fell to DAWN OF THE DEAD [2004], then rose again on the 8th weekend (in accordance with the scriptures), becoming the most profitable movie of all time.*

That movie proved that Mel is bulletproof to any and all negative media (so long as he puts out a decent product, anyway) and PAPARAZZI is no doubt Mel's attempt to further infuriate those members of the press who would dearly love to see him fall flat on his face.

While I enjoyed PAPARAZZI for what it was - B-grade, popcorn munching, revenge flick, fluff - it would have been much better if:

  • It had shown more character depth; no one in the flick has any at all.

  • If the previews and trailers didn't give everything away.

  • Twists and turns of plot, instead of plot holes and gaps.
  • If Mel wants to continue bashing the Hollywood/liberal Media machine, then he'd best pay attention to the main weapon in his arsenal: He needs a decent product. Without that, he'll go sliding down after directors like Shyamalan, and he won't be leaving a trail of goodwill behind him.

    Three Shriek Girls.


    This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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    DVD


    TRIVIA
    Not allowing critics free previews is going to give it a lot of bad press, of course. I've yet to see any critics grant favors to a movie they had to pay for, and I've seen a large number of crap flicks that won critical praise, and even the odd Oscar nomination, simply because the producers coddled and feted the critics before hand and/or played to their peers (Magnolia and The Royal Tennenbaums come to mind).

    ALIEN VS. PREDATOR
    was clearly the equal of any of the PREDATOR movies and better than ALIEN 3 and RESURRECTION. Yet critics trounced it with an unusual venom not even seen with a Madonna movie.

    They acted the same way with EXORCIST: The Beginning, which, it can be charitably said, was better than THE EXORCIST 2 and 3.

    What these two movies had in common, besides schlocky directors, was a theatrical release without critical preview.

    They share that now with PAPARAZZI.


    Mel Gibson cut his acting teeth on revenge flicks with the far superior
    MAD MAX.

    *
    Then began its downward slide for good with the theatrical release of HELLBOY.



    UPDATE TRIVIA
    A fair number of critiques, regarding this movie, huff at how the paparazzi depicted go "over the top".
    While the public image of a Hollywood actor is of an alcoholic, drug addicted, spoiled and pampered, emotionally and mentally unstable person (to be fair, this impression has largely been created by nearly a century of gossip columns and tabloid stories by those very types of people), no one has yet to paint actor Gwyneth Paltrow (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) with that brush. Yet the woman, as of Sept. 9, 2004, is planning a lawsuit against London paparazzi for endangering her child with their intrusive harrassment which includes zooming around her in cars, taking flash photographs of her, while she drives.
     
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