Paparazzi, 84 mins, opening in cinemas on 11 November 2004.

Paparazzi has something of a split personality.  It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.  Is it a thriller?  Is it a parody?  Is it a serious commentary on the cult of the “star” and the power of the press?  Is it a plea for restrictions to the First Amendment?  Or is it just a dud?

Mel Gibson’s company, Icon Productions, is behind this film.   Icon’s previous film was the phenomenal box office hit The Passion of the Christ (2004). Gibson is one of the producers, and has a cameo spot in the film.  The director is Paul Abascal.  This is his debut feature film.  Previously he worked as a director in TV, and before that he was Mel Gibson’s hairdresser.  The screenplay is also a debut, from former high school English teacher and football coach, Forrest Smith.  I think the inexperience of both director and writer shows.

The cast is mostly interesting: Cole Hauser plays the lead, rejoicing in the unlikely name of “Bo Laramie”.  Hauser has had supporting roles in films like Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993) and Good Will Hunting (Van Sant, 1997). He makes a fairly bland superstar.

Tom Sizemore plays the worst of all paparazzi, giving a completely over-the-top performance that surely must be intentional.  Sizemore is a strong character actor, and has appeared in many successful films including Born on the Fourth of July (Stone, 1989) and Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998). Daniel Baldwin plays another paparazzo, again in broad caricature.

Each of Gibson, Sizemore, and Daniel’s brother, Alec Baldwin, have had well-publicised run-ins with persistent press photographers.  Clearly these people have an axe to grind.

The plot is predictable.  A Hollywood action-movie star, who is also a loving husband and father and all-round good country boy, shoots to stardom in his movies Adrenaline Force and Adrenaline Force 2.  But he discovers that his new-found fame comes at a price.  People will want to take photos of him, and his family.  When the paparazzi from Paparazzi magazine (!) take pictures at his son’s soccer game, Bo gets mad and punches a photographer (Sizemore).  Sizemore’s character, in something of an overreaction, vows to “destroy your life and eat your soul”.

With his two other paparazzi buddies, Sizemore’s character stalks Bo and his family.  They cause a Princess Diana-like car accident.  Bo’s wife and son are seriously injured: the son is in a coma.  The law is of course no help at all.  No one seems to connect the paparazzi with the accident until it is too late.  Bo has even been ordered, as a result of the punching incident, to undergo anger management counselling. What option does Bo have, but to go on a revenge rampage involving murder?  Who wouldn’t?

The film’s position seems to be that Bo is justified in committing murder because of what has happened to his family.  There is no discussion of ethics, no real voice of reason.  Dennis Farina plays a police detective investigating these events.  At one point I thought the film was about to get interesting, as Farina’s character returned to Bo a piece of crucial evidence linking Bo to the death of one of the paparazzi.  Is he giving Bo permission to continue his murder spree?  But no, this plot point was just dropped.

Bo’s anger management counselling is treated as a joke:  the psychologist’s next client is Mel Gibson himself. Gibson has said that he hopes the audience “enjoys the movie and understands that…the tongue is firmly implanted in the cheek”.  Much about the movie confirms this.  But on the other hand the violence is savage, the action is realistic, and there is a definite divide between “good and “evil”.  

If this were a serious film, there would have been some discussion of the ethics of revenge, and the role of justification.  If this were a parody, the tone of the film would not have been as serious as it is at times, and the violence would not have been as realistic.  If this were a good thriller, there would have been another reel at the end, during which all the inconsistencies were explained and the plot holes filled in.  And there would be a more satisfying ending.  At only 84 minutes, the film definitely feels as if something is missing.

In the end, Paparazzi seems to be suggesting that murder is the best form of anger management.  If that is so, then it is no wonder The New York Times film critic described it as “this amazingly arrogant, immoral film”.