In another life, Forrest Smith’s script for “Paparazzi” must have been a “Columbo” movie of the week. At least, that’s my guess. Evidence number one: Dennis Farina, playing a police Detective, is basically Columbo minus the old wrinkled trenchcoat and cigars. Somewhere along the way, Smith figured out that he could turn his old, unsold “Columbo” script into a movie about bloodthirsty paparazzi and the Hollywood action star that refuse to take their crap anymore. Or at least that’s my theory as to the origins of “Paparazzi”. But then again, I could be wrong.
“Paparazzi” is the kind of movie you would think Hollywood would make more often. Not because it’s particularly good, but because it does the things movie stars like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, men who can green light a movie with a nod, wishes they could do, which is beat up on the piranhas that harasses them for the sake of eliciting anger that they can then photograph and sell for a lot of money. In this case, Mel Gibson, a man known for his dislike of the paparazzi, fronted the money to turn Forrest Smith’s script into reality, and even provides a blink-and-you’ll-miss cameo along with a lot of other big name stars. (Chris Rock has a long cameo as a pizza deliveryman.)
The film stars Cole Hauser (“Pitch Black”) as Bo Laramie, a rising action star who finds the luxuries of fame to his liking, but the media attention less than flattering. Bo’s biggest problem is Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore, “Saving Private Ryan”), who just oozes sleaze out of every pore. Along with a posse of three, including one of the Baldwin brothers (they’re all so husky nowadays that it’s hard to tell them apart), Harper pursues Bo relentless, even going so far as to provoke a physical attack just to capture it on video. Later, the foursome forces Bo into a car accident that leaves Bo’s son in a coma and wife Robin Tunney popping sedative pills.
What’s an action star to do? As you probably guessed, he goes on a warpath, which begins quite inadvertently, but leaves the fine taste of revenge resting nicely on Bo’s lips. One by one, Bo tracks down and turns the tables on Harper and company, using the men’s own vices against them. Meanwhile, Dennis Farina, doing his best Columbo impression, is skulking in the background, and finding that all the circumstantial evidence points to Bo. Watching Farina, it’s not hard to imagine Peter Falk in the role. It’s basically a carbon copy of what Falk used to do on TV for years, further supporting my theory that “Paparazzi” was once a “Columbo” movie script.
The truth is that “Paparazzi” is a B-movie that somehow lucked into a $20 million budget. First-time director Paul Abascal doesn’t do a terrible job, but his biggest nemesis is the PG-13 rating, which keeps the film from fulfilling its potential as a brutal revenge film. As such, the movie lacks almost everything one would associate with an R-rated movie like “Man on Fire”, including bloody kills and ruthless action. Actually, the “action scenes” in Bo’s movie within a movie are more exciting than what Bo gets to do in “real life” versus the paparazzi. It’s all a little lackluster, to be honest.
One particular killing, involving a bat, is never even seen. The ending, when Harper ditches his camera for a gun, is so anti-climactic that you keep waiting for the real ending to show up, and when it never does, you feel cheated. What also never shows up are Rex Harper’s reasons for being such a vindictive bastard. The movie never even hints at a reason behind Harper’s insane behavior, including the drug rape of a woman he picks up at a bar. If the film had even made an attempt to tell us a little bit about our villain, “Paparazzi” would have been better for it.
Without a doubt, the biggest thing holding “Paparazzi” back is the decision not to go gritty and dark. The film looks like the movie premieres that Bo goes to — glitzy and bright, and not the least bit “real”. And with a short 80-minute running time, there’s not a lot of room for “Paparazzi” to work out its kinks. Not that Smith’s script is up to the task, mind you. It’s all over the place, and sometimes you wonder why Farina is even in the movie, since his character really has no impact on the film’s conclusion. Maybe incorporating that unused “Columbo” script wasn’t such a great idea after all.
The one bright spot in “Paparazzi” is Cole Hauser, who is one of those actors who deserves a bigger profile than they currently possess. Hauser has always played second fiddle to bigger named stars like Vin Diesel and (gasp!) Paul Walker (in “2 Fast 2 Furious”). Can you believe Paul “I talk, walk, sound, and can’t act just like Keanu Reeves” Walker is more famous, and more “bankable”, than a man of Hauser’s talents? If this doesn’t prove to you that Hollywood is royally screwed up, nothing will.
Alas, after “Paparazzi’s” poor showing at the box office, it doesn’t look as if Hauser’s star will be rising any time soon. Which is too bad, because some of the best moments of “Paparazzi” is watching Hauser’s face as Harper et al continues to cross him. You can practically see the bloodlust gathering behind his eyes, and his mind churning, forming plans to get back at the vultures…
Paul Abascal (director) / Forrest Smith (screenplay)
CAST: Cole Hauser …. Bo Laramie
Robin Tunney …. Abby Laramie
Dennis Farina …. Detective Burton
Daniel Baldwin …. Wendell Stokes
Tom Hollander …. Leonard Clark
Tom Sizemore …. Rex Harper