Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ/ left many a moviegoer with the impression he’d completely lost his sense of humor (and very possibly his mind). So it was a pleasant surprise to find both intact and in evidence in the filmmaker’s latest production.
“Paparazzi” is an inspired concept disguised as a routine revenge fest: “Death Wish” retooled for our celebrity obsessed age. Cole (2 Fast 2 Furious) Hauser plays a Hollywood action hero whose life comes to resemble one of his pictures. A centered, self reliant hunk with a million dollar smile, his character is a former Montana boy who has just hit it big in Tinsletown as the star of a box office smash called Adrenaline Force.
He’s also a husband and father who’s serious about guarding his family’s privacy. Which makes him a juicy target for celebrity photographer Tom Sizemore and his band of parasitic pals. The stage for the story’s central conflict is set early on. Hauser catches Sizemore snapping shots of his young son as he takes part in a soccer game in a neighborhood park. The actor confronts the photographer and politely asks him to consider the child off limits. The viewer’s given a crash course in the law as the naive new star protests that Sizemore needs his permission to take pictures of the boy since he’s a minor whereupon Sizemore explains that everyone, in fact, is fair game when they’re on public property. All the same, he promises to relent.
Which is why Hauser is mad as hell moments later when he catches him at it again. Faster than you can say “six figure settlement,” the actor’s punched the guy’s lights out to the delight of Sizemore’s buddies who have recorded the assault from a nearby hiding place. The result? A major pay day for the paparazzi and a one way ticket to anger counseling for his prey. Not to mention some unflattering tabloid cover shots.
Knowing a goldmine when they see one, the gang decides to ambush Hauser again. Each positions his own vehicle so as to surround and block in the star as he heads home one night with his wife and son. Hauser slams on his brakes to escape and is rear ended at high speed by another car sending his wife to the OR and his son into a coma.
In the absence of witnesses (well, there is one but Sizemore shuts her up in particularly slithery fashion), the shutterbugs elude responsibility for the accident. More appallingly, they continue and eventually escalate their invasion of the couple’s privacy. As directed by Paul Abascal, the movie has a streak of gleefully black humor running through it and, in one sequence, a consoling hug from a female store clerk winds up on a tabloid cover next to a headline alleging extramarital antics. Shots of Hauser’s wife taking post op pain medication by the pool are splashed across the same seamy pages beside a story suggesting her husband has strayed as a result of her out of control pill popping.
By the time shooting has begun on “Adrenaline Force 2”, the creeps have even broken into the couple’s home to plant miniature video cameras throughout the place and the movie’s makers have shifted into full blown tongue in cheek satire. Sizemore, let’s not forget, is a violent entertainment industry nutjob portraying a violent entertainment industry nutjob. In a bar one night he alludes to the time Alec Baldwin punched him in the face. This is eerily amusing not only due to its reference to a real life incident which made headlines but due to the fact that the member of his posse to which he relays the tale is played by Daniel Baldwin. The accident scene itself has dark echoes of the crash which killed Princess Diana, a tragedy many suspected was abbetted by overzealous photographers. This is a film which resonates on a surprising number of levels.
But the level on which it undoubtedly works best is the victim-goes-postal-and-takes-the-law-into-his-own-hands level. Hauser ultimately is pushed too far, receives too little help from the police and decides to make like a character in one of his movies. The result is over the top, improbable, as cheesy as stuffed crust pizza and immensely entertaining.
“Paparazzi” is lightyears from art or thought provoking social commentary but the fact is its Charles Bronson mets Bob Goen take on the predatory nature of celebrity journalism qualifies it as one of the summer’s most original creations. We simply haven’t seen a film quite like this before.
How a first time feature director and a cast of second and third tier performers pulled that off is something enquiring minds in Hollywood will want to know.