The wonderfully misguided 2004 revenge flick Paparazzi was one of those movies I’ve backed for official Yakmala status for a long time. It’s time to make my case with a whole lot of outdated references to a defunct ad campaign.
Tagline: One good shot deserves another
More Accurate Tagline: Bo knows homicide
Guilty Party: The creative team behind Paparazzi sounds made up. The director, Paul Abascal, is a former hairstylist making his debut as a feature film director. Before this, the only cinematic crime on his record was Mel Gibson’s mullet in Lethal Weapon 3. The writer, Forry Smith, has written one thing. This. So who would have the hubris to grab a first-time writer in one hand, and the guy who made his hair look like a cautionary tale on the dangers of Whitesnake addiction? Mel Gibson! Everyone’s favorite drunk, anti-semitic uncle decided to draw upon his deep and abiding love of Christ’s teachings, and give us a revenge flick we could all relate to. You know, if we were rich and famous movie stars.
Synopsis: Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is a newly minted action star. He also has a perfect family: married to Abby, his sweetheart from back home (a nearly comatose Robin Tunney) with a little Aryan moppet named Zach. Bo has it all. He’s also awesome, because he hasn’t let the fame go to his head. Bo knows humility.
He gets his first bitter taste of fame when a woman asks him to sign the cover of the National Inquirer stand-in, the eponymous Paparazzi. That’s a bit like calling a book “Novelist” but whatever. Shortly afterwards at Zach’s soccer game, sleazy paparazzo Rex Harper (a supremely sweaty Tom Sizemore) snaps pictures of the boy. Bo asks him to stop, and though Rex initially complies, he’s back at it later. Bo decks him, and Rex reveals his equally sweaty partners were filming the whole thing. Rex proceeds to sue the living shit out of Bo. Bo knows litigation.
Bo pays up and goes to anger management, but also tells his side of the story on Access Hollywood. This enrages Rex, who pledges to destroy Bo. He gathers his crew together, including Wendell Stokes (Daniel Baldwin, perpetually looking like he just ate a big bowl of chili), Leonard Clark (British), and Kevin Rosner (a biker for some reason), to get some payback. Rex, while on a date because we need a convenient third act witness, causes Bo to get into a bad accident. He then proceeds to take pictures of the horribly injured bodies of Bo, Abby, and Zach. Bo is a little banged up, Abby is badly hurt but conscious, and Zach is in a coma. Bo knows trauma.
Detective Burton (Dennis Farina) is on the case. The paparazzi spin a fake story about happening upon the accident, and Rex keeps his date quiet with a little rape and blackmail, just in case you were worried about nuance. While Bo innocently comforts the local grocery store girl over Zach’s coma, Kevin the biker gets a shot of it. Bo freaks out, and then accidentally runs Kevin off the road. He makes an effort to rescue the guy, but Kevin’s evil can’t be turned off by something as petty as staying alive. He shit-talks Bo in the middle of the rescue, leading to Bo dropping Kevin off a goddamn cliff. Bo knows gravity.
Detective Burton gives Bo the rundown on what scumbags these paparazzi are. Leonard would be a disgraced lawyer if he had the capacity to feel shame, while Rex is an accused rapist. Burton also warns Bo that he shouldn’t use a cell phone, since it’s easy to listen in. Armed with this knowledge (and information on Leonard’s past illegal weapons charges), Bo lures Leonard to the set, plants a prop gun on him, and calls the cops. Leonard foolishly investigates what the gun-shaped bulge in his jacket is while a bunch of cops have him dead to rights. Bo knows subtlety.
Rex and Wendell (panicking at the recent deaths of Kevin and Leonard) break into Bo’s place to plant cameras, only to catch Abby at home. Wendell beats up Abby and threatens Zach. After that, the cops park outside Bo’s place, forcing Bo to concoct a pointlessly elaborate way to get out. He then beats Wendell to death with a baseball bat and sneaks home. Bo knows justice.
Detective Farina suddenly remembers that red light cameras exist, and gets an image of Rex’s date. She immediately sells Rex out as having caused the accident. When Burton dispatches cops to Rex and Wendell’s homes, he finds out they’re already en route, sent by anonymous calls. Rex discovers Wendell’s corpse on the guy’s floor, and breaks in to smell him or something. He returns home to find blood and the bat planted there (and has just placed his own blood and fingerprints at Wendell’s place), and flees a few moments before the police arrive. He goes to Bo’s house, where the movie star proceeds to beat him mercilessly. Burton arrives and arrests Rex. The paparazzo is taken out in cuffs while other paparazzi get pictures of his bloody face. Bo knows irony.
Life-Changing Subtext: Celebrities are like normal people, except they can murder whoever they like.
Defining Quote: Rex: “Laramie, I’m going to destroy your life and eat your soul. And I can’t. Wait. To do it.” He makes this pledge while watching Access Hollywood, before shit has gotten even remotely real. Rex has all the nuance of a chimpanzee smelling his own ass.
Standout Performance: This film has a quartet of bizarre cameos no doubt roped in by (at that time) Gibson’s solid reputation. Gibson himself, in an unintentionally revealing choice, plays a patient in the therapist’s waiting room where Bo must unfairly receive anger management treatment. Vince Vaughn, sporting a biker mustache, grills Bo about rumors of penile enlargement. Chris Rock plays a thrilled pizza delivery guy who politely requests some “fine bitches” from Bo. And lastly, Matthew McConaughey plays himself, because you really can’t trust him to do anything else.
What’s Wrong: To make a revenge movie palatable it needs two things: crimes commensurate to the hero’s righteous fury and a star with enough charisma to keep the audience on his side. No matter how cartoonishly evil the paparazzi become, they never tip over the balance into out-and-out monsters. And, this bears repeating, Bo beats one to death with a baseball bat.
On the second point, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, and Vince Vaughn were all asked to play Bo (probably in that order). No one wanted anywhere near this script, except Vaughn, who I’m assuming was paid in Rogaine and Cheetohs. They were forced to settle for the reptilian Cole Hauser. With that guy’s toxic anti-charisma, it’s a good thing he didn’t play Private Ryan or all of America would have cheered for Hitler.
Flash of Competence: A modern, slickly-made, and high-budget film, Paparazzi rarely drags.
Best Scenes: Right after Bo attends the premiere of his new action blockbuster Adrenaline Force (apparently, Bo is making movies in 1986 or something), he runs along the beach in Malibu. In the film’s first bizarre miscalculation, Bo slips into amazed voiceover. This is the only instance of voiceover in the entire film. It comes out of nowhere, heralding its arrival with a gobsmacked “Whew!” like Cole Hauser had to first beat the voiceover at tennis before recording it. There’s a weird little coda about how “primitive tribes” (which to Gibson probably means Methodists) believe the camera steals your soul. This places the blame squarely on the paparazzi for any horrible thing Bo will do. “Hey, you didn’t want me to bat-rape you? Shouldn’t have taken that photo, chuckles!” And in case you’re wondering, the voiceover never returns.
The plan to kill Leonard Clark is actually pretty good. Bo cleverly uses some information imparted in the previous scene (the bad guys can listen in on cell phone calls), plants a weapon on a guy with a gun charge, then calls the cops. You could say there was no way he could have guessed Clark would be dumb enough to pull that gun-shaped thing out of his pocket while all the LAPD had weapons trained on him, but it’s possible Bo only wanted to get the guy busted and was pleasantly surprised. Anyway, good job, movie.
Bo’s plan to break out of his house falls on the other end of the spectrum. He calls a pizza delivery guy (Chris Rock, who overplays the whole scene, acting like he got invited to Jesus Christ’s pad), and then hides in the guy’s trunk to get past the police watching the house. How does he get out of the trunk without the driver noticing or pulling over? Never shown. He does, going to a car stashed in the woods, which is also never established. Later, he has to sneak back in, which he does through the back of the property. So… why didn’t he do that the night before? Maybe that motherfucker really wanted pizza.
Transcendent Moment: In the end, Detective Burton loads a bloody and beaten Rex Harper into his police car, ready to cart him off to jail on Wendell Stokes’s murder. As he does, he looks back up at Bo, and a tiny smile plays on Burton’s lips. He knows. He fucking knows Bo was involved in three murders and a frame job. He even has solid evidence to tie Bo to the scene of Kevin’s crash. But he doesn’t say anything, because Bo is a celebrity, and they’re totally allowed to do this.
Paparazzi is the wonderful fallout of sheltered, entitled people trying to air their problems to the world. And these aren’t even First World Problems — these are something far beyond that. Something called Yakmala.