Movie Information

Genre: Paranoid-Star Revenge Fantasy
Director: Paul Abascal
Starring: Cole Hauser, Robin Tunny, Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, Daniel Baldwin, Tom Hollander
Rated: PG-13

Is this the worst movie ever made? No, but it’s certainly a strong contender for the most loathsome piece of self-serving, hypocritical trash ever to ooze its way out of a studio. It’s also quite possibly the most morally reprehensible film ever to slither by the MPAA with a PG-13 rating.

Not that it’s uncommon for Hollywood to feed off the very thing it purports to despise. Take Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, with its outraged scene in which an astronaut’s wife lashes out in righteous indignation at the news media for only showing up when something goes wrong. And this bit of sanctimonious posturing is housed in what? A movie built entirely around a space mission where something goes wrong. Where the Mel Gibson-produced Paparazzi differs is in taking hypocrisy to new lows – via more combined ineptitude than there are clowns packed into one of those midget cars at the circus.

The genesis of Paparazzi is supposedly a conversation in which Gibson and some of his cronies were swapping “nightmare” stories about celebrity-seeking photographers, which prompted Mel to conclude that the group had hit upon a great movie premise. They hadn’t. Undaunted, unafraid and possibly unconscious, Mel turned the idea over to someone named Forrest Smith, who’s been variously described as a former football player, former English teacher and former high-school football coach. Smith was to provide the screenplay.

It was in this same mindset, I suppose, that Mel decided to engage the services of Paul Abascal to direct the results. And while Abascal certainly has some singularly unimpressive credits helming episodes of TV shows, his major claim to fame — and his connection to Gibson — lies in his having been the hair stylist on the Lethal Weapon movies. (He’s also the creator of a couple appropriately worshipful “video diaries” on buddy Mel.)

And just when you think the pedigree of Paparazzi can’t get any more dubious, Abascal casts Cole Hauser in the lead as the poor, put-upon movie star who suffers mightily at the hands of the script’s unbelievably evil quartet of paparazzi. Could there have been a worse choice than Hauser (the drug dealer in 2 Fast 2 Furious)? Looking for all the world like the poor man’s Matthew McConaughey (who puts in a guest appearance here to prove that they aren’t the same person), Hauser is utterly uncharismatic. Worse still, he’s thoroughly unsympathetic.

It would seem that Gibson loves nothing so much as a tortured hero (of late, see The Passion of the Christ), but draws the line at casting anyone other than himself in that capacity who can truly elicit sympathy (see Braveheart). To make matters worse, Paparazzi is a twisted throwback to those vigilante-minded exploitation movies that played at drive-ins and other select venues in the 1970s. But here it’s retrofitted to play to what can only be called movie-star paranoia.

Hauser portrays a rising star with a name only a producer of gay porn could love, Bo Laramie. As Bo himself notes in the sub-Raymond Chandler style narration the film uses (and then drops) to set things up, “Six months ago, I couldn’t have gotten noticed with a fresh corpse and a smoking gun.” Here’s a guy who’s just achieved fame by starring in an action flick with some name like Testosterone Drip (think: Lethal Weapon). His newfound celebrity allows him to buy a dream home in Malibu, which he inhabits with his TV-perfect wife, Abby (Robin Tunney, The In-Laws), and their even-more-TV-perfect son, Zach (Jurassic Park III‘s Blake Michael Bryan, whose only marginally believable acting occurs after he’s in a coma).

Yet there’s a sinister downside to all of this courtesy of the tabloids and the vile, horrible, monstrous, low-life scum known as (insert dramatic music here) The Paparazzi. And just in case we aren’t sufficiently horrified by these unlovely specimens of humanity, the film conjures up four of the most monstrous representatives of this trade imaginable to beleaguer poor Bo. And these are hardly your average low-life scum. All have criminal records, and most of their seemingly boundless wealth comes not from their occupation, but from lawsuits and occasional successes at blackmail.

As the plot kicks in, the unholy shutterbug foursome have already plastered naked photos of the Laramies in a tabloid rag. But it doesn’t get nasty till they snag some shots of little Zach playing soccer, whereupon Bo — his Montana-born-and-bred sense of decency outraged (read: he’s not all Hollywoodized and has “real” morals) — objects and allows himself to be suckered into slugging the quartet’s ringleader, Rex (Tom Sizemore, Dreamcatcher). This earns Bo a $500,000 fine and a court order to go into anger management with a therapist whose clients include a cameo appearance by Mel himself (ha, ha).

Bo’s attack so incurs the wrath of Rex that the the actor’s destruction becomes his major concern in life. We won’t even consider the amazing lack of logic involved, but will skip ahead to the point where the quartet do the Princes Di number on the Laramie clan, causing a traffic accident in which Abby loses her spleen and Zach is left in a coma (the movie gives short shrift to the death of an innocent nonparticipant). Alas, this sends the already bumptious Bo a little further over the edge.

And then there’s the incredible moment where one of the scummy photographers (Kevin Gage, Knockaround Guys) has an accident that leaves him dangling over a cliff, with only Bo there to save him. Ah, but since Bo inadvertently caused the accident, the moron in question tells the man who is all that stands between him and a fall to Certain Death that he’s going to sue him! Naturally, Bo lets the man fall to his well-deserved demise. From there it becomes a simple matter to set up the deaths of the other evildoers — something the rumpled Columbo-clone detective on the case (Dennis Farina) suspects, but being a right-minded fellow, he’s not going to pursue too rigorously.

Yes, Paparazzi is really that morally specious and that simple-minded. It should be avoided at all costs.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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