Celebrity is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, you get millions of dollars and attend glamorous parties and live in mansions etc. But the price you have to pay is all that unwanted attention from the media. One line of argument states that movie stars should expect such invasion of their private lives since they’re working in the public spotlight. Hey, sure, a guy used a telephoto lens to take a picture of you being naked inside your own house, but those are the breaks, kiddo. The other side of the argument runs that we are to blame with the public love for trashy gossip rags and celebrity gossip, thus funding the destruction of people’s dignity. And then you have the film, Paparazzi, which adds to the whole debate over the existence of the paparazzi by basically arguing that movie stars should have the right to kill them if warranted.
A good thriller relies on our ability to relate to the protagonist. Thus we have Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser, the intense Tom Berenger Jnr type who starred in Dazed & Confused and Higher Learning), an ordinary guy and loving family man, who just happens to be a movie star and attends the premieres of blockbusters like Adrenaline Force. Walking down the red carpet, he finds himself surrounded by people yelling for his attention and snapped by the bright lights of cameras on either side of him, which as the editing points out is a DIZZYING experience. Then we hear some voice-over narration where Laramie trots out the old reliable “ancient cultures believe that you lose a piece of your soul every time your photo is taken” line (Oh brother, I think the writer took an anthropology class once! That or saw Crocodile Dundee.). While Laramie can handle providing autographs for the fans, he can’t abide the inclusion of his family within this public attention, particularly when he discovers the cover of a tabloid rag simply called Paparazzi, which has a photo of him and his wife naked on the beach. His chipper son asks, “Why is daddy in a magazine with a black thing covering his pee-pee?” Ah, family humour providing solace from the onslaught of noxious parasites! Obsessed with Laramie is leading photographer scumbag paparazzi, Rex Harper, who we know is a scumbag because he’s played by the very convincing scumbag talents of Tom Sizemore. Laramie first meets Harper at his son’s soccer match where he tries to ask nicely for Harper to stop taking photos, handling the media attention in a very George Clooney fashion. “Sure thing, famous guy,” Harper wisecracks. Harper relents but then he’s back taking more photos of Laramie’s family so Laramie loses it, handling the media attention now in a very Alec Baldwin fashion. He punches Harper in the face, knocking him against Harper’s van, which slides open to reveal Harper’s paparazzi cronies taking photos galore. “Oh, you gonna pay!” cackles Harper. The plot takes a sharp turn when Harper and his gang hound Laramie and his family one night, causing the movie star to crash in a very Princess Di fashion. As Laramie and his family are knocked out unconscious in the wreckage, Sizemore and his boys stand there for a moment before running back to their cars and bringing out the cameras to record the scene with the fascination of a... car crash. The camera judges them silently, urging us to feel sick to our stomach: “Look at these parasites, they are even lowering his wife’s dress to get some cleavage in the shot, I HATE HUMANITY NOW!”
Now I am under no illusions about the paparazzi: anyone who is happy to crawl in the gutter to take an up-skirt special is indeed repugnant, sure. I mean anytime I watch TMZ, I want to take a flamethrower to their self-delusion that they’re reporters doing this for the Public Interest. However, I’d rather watch a good documentary following such douchebags on their rounds than what Paparazzi does, which is shoehorn paparazzi shenanigans into a hackneyed Death Wish plot. In order for us the audience to be cheering on the demise of these shutterbugs, we have to believe them to be the most heinous people ever. So you have Sizemore, all but foaming at the mouth in his performance, staring at photos of Laramie and cackling, “Laramie, I’m gonna destroy your life and eat your soul!” (Apparently a piece of Sizemore improv). Then you have Sizemore blackmailing a blonde bar-hopper he picked up, who also witnessed the car crash, by revealing that he taped them having sex and would happily send the tape to the internet and to her senator daddy if she ever told the cops. Then he and his cronies (who include Kevin Gage, Tom Hollander and Daniel Baldwin who summarises the philosophy of the paparazzi with the line, “We’re the last hunters!”) break into Laramie’s house and set up spy-cams like they’re the goddamn CIA. With his son in a coma and his wife’s spleen removed thanks to the car crash, Laramie sets out to take revenge, at first, letting Kevin Gage the biker ‘Rolex Rider’ paparazzi fall to his death from the face of a cliff after a motorcycle accident. Then Laramie sets up pint-sized British paparazzi Tom Hollander by dropping a false report to the cops about Hollander firing a gun at people. Hollander is cornered by the LAPD and reaches into his jacket for his ID, but no, there’s a prop gun planted in his jacket that gets him cut to pieces by trigger-happy cops. All the while Dennis Farina plays a cop (surprise, surprise) who is Columbo-ing the investigation and figuring out that these deaths are not “accidents.” In the end, Laramie breaks into Daniel Baldwin’s home (after Daniel Baldwin broke into his home and threatened his wife) and beats him to death with a baseball bat (the actual murder was cut from the movie because it made the audience feel unsympathetic towards Laramie). Cut to a scene of the cops taking photos of Baldwin the paparazzi’s dead body (“DO YOU SEE THE IRONY?” is what the movie screams). The climactic face-off between Laramie and Harper a.k.a. Sizemore has Sizemore breaking into the mansion then being beaten in the face by the movie star who has framed Sizemore for the death of Daniel Baldwin’s character. Sizemore is carted out by the cops into a swarm of photographers taking his picture for the papers (“DOUBLE IRONY!” The movie yells again). Movie ends with Farina letting his suspicions go unchecked with a rueful smile, basically condoning a movie-star’s numerous plotted murders of sleazy press photographers and Laramie the movie star walking down the red carpet for Adrenaline Force 2, but now knowing how to handle the paparazzi with a wink and a smile. All it took was a couple of murders!