STARS/**** Image A Sound A Extras D
starring Cole Hauser, Robin Tunney, Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore
screenplay by Forrest Smith
directed by Paul Abascal
by Walter Chaw Loathsome doesn't begin to describe it. How about "toxic"? View Paparazzi and producer Mel Gibson's own The Passion of the Christ together for a better perspective on where Gibson's coming from these days. Better, view the two together for some insight into the way that martyr complexes sometimes metastasize into a belief that feelings of rage and vengeance are justifiable responses to the indignities of a world whose sole focus is to torture the privileged with wealth, adoration, and extraordinarily high levels of creature comfort. Paparazzi are no angels, what with the recent spate of highly-publicized incidents culminating in the accusation that one of the adorable little shutterbugs slammed his car into Lindsay Lohan's in order for his compatriots to snap a few shots of the starlet vehicle-free. But rather than deal in a serious fashion with the toll the paparazzi take on any individual's right to a certain measure of personal space and safety, Paparazzi chooses to offer an unironic manifesto that forgives the vigilante-style abuse of Gibson's very own personal Sanhedrin. The film is suspect from the trailers, and its horrific morality grows more noxious with prolonged exposure.
Paparazzi isn't fun, escapist fare reserved for the guilty pleasure of the handful of people on this planet who can relate--it's ugly, black-and-white moral absolutism where every tabloid employee is a rapist, pornographer, drug dealer, or some other variety of violent psychopath and every movie star is a square-jawed Marlboro Man defending the good Old Testament value of 'if a picture offends thee, pluck out the motherfucking heart of the guy who took it.' (Would that the same applied for pictures like Bird on a Wire and Forever Young.) For all that, because it's rated PG-13 and trying to attract as wide an audience as possible, Paparazzi's not even a well-made exploitation flick. ("We had to choose between one 'prick' or one 'fuck' to keep the rating. We chose the 'prick'!" says director Paul Abascal, apparently not referring to Gibson.) A kid does get put into a coma during a Princess Di-esque car wreck, but for a movie meant to make us queasy about the invasiveness of America's prurient interest in false idols, the only thing we get to leer at are repetitive images of the villains being hunted down and murdered.
You'd think that casting Tom Sizemore as the slavering lead baddie would indicate a sense of satire--likewise, the Ferris Bueller scene, wherein hero Bo (Cole Hauser) runs through sprinklers to get home before evil principal Detective Burton (Dennis Farina in full Columbo mode) discovers that Ferris played hooky to smash in the brains of a Baldwin. There's a moment near the end when all is ready to be forgiven as Bo starts monologuizing like an arch-villain, smirking like the blood-thirsty loony that he is. Alas, it's paid off not with the sanity-preserving realization that Bo is actually worse than the paparazzi, but with a punchline involving prison sex and a reunification of Bo's beautiful nuclear family. Consider a shot, though, right before that in which the audience's point of view is equated with that of a felled paparazzi--and wonder if Gibson really resents us and what the film, in less self-obsessed hands, could have been.
In truth, for as much as a film like this lacks any kind of subtext outside the meta, Paparazzi hates its audience. More to the point, it hates every person on the planet who isn't an action-movie hero--that is, an action-movie hero named Mel Gibson. Directed by Gibson's hairdresser (yes, seriously), it's one of the most hopeless, misanthropic pictures to sleaze up the down-pipe in quite some time, its only reason for existence the frightening process of equivocation that Gibson recently undertook to validate his murderous fantasy of attaining enough power (and he already has) to get away with murder. It's the myth of justifiable homicide, of human stains that all the perfumes of Arabia can wash clean like that, of vengeance standing as the one true way of the Lord. I must've missed the parts in The New Testament about taking a baseball bat to lepers and criminals, so blinded was I by that forgiveness and humility lip-service. (Everything else aside, I'm still waiting for the paparazzi of the film to break the law.) First The Passion of the Christ, now Paparazzi: if you don't think Gibson is a scary customer, there lie exhibits one and two.
Find Paparazzi on DVD (in the bargain bins at Wal-Mart) courtesy a flipper from Fox that presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-on-scan on opposite sides of the disc. Because Abascal has already framed it with multiple USA network airings in mind (Abascal cut his proverbial teeth on TV), the fullscreen option doesn't actually sacrifice that much information. Nevertheless, an objective analysis reveals a surprisingly canny colour palette that casts each scene in a lurid, saturated-to-drippy, comes-off-on-your-fingers newsprint look that fits in perfectly with the gossip rags that are its target. Though Abascal fails to mention how the picture's aesthetic plays into the film's subject (suggesting that he's just a bad filmmaker who's lucked into something worth discussing in a positive light), there's something a little Peter Greenaway about it that I like. Although light on subwoofer action, the DD 5.1 audio liberally employs the surround channels for door knocks and glass-breaking among other ambient effects.
Abascal's de rigueur yakker begins with him saying, "This is my first film and it's also my first commentary track," and it gets worse from there. He notes that fluorescent lights, unfiltered, appear greenish on film and snickers an awful lot at how evil he's made the paparazzi in this picture. In between, he namedrops, claims friendship with everyone on the show, and refers to Striking Distance at least twice, which is more than anyone else has ever mentioned it in the decade since its release. It's a deplorable commentary, in other words, but in a completely different way from the film, making it the marginally-preferable listening option. A "Making of Featurette" (5 mins.) is the typical on-set interview/clips from the film junket promo that has the effect of depleting a lot of one's respect for Robin Tunney. ("It's sort of a be careful what you wish for scenario"--yeah, that's exactly what it is.)
Three deleted scenes (totalling 7 minutes) with optional commentary from Abascal are essentially comprised of worthless dialogue and a character who sleeps in the car and doesn't do anything to further the narrative along, such as it is. The last, though, is a "hilarious" shot of Sizemore's character in jail (or is it Sizemore himself? Reality/fantasy, potato/potahto) while a big black bull starts giving him a backrub. That's bad, but worse are the two Mexican characters Sizemore's Rex pays to steal Bo's trash. The only people more venal than paparazzi, see, are migrant workers. Score another one for the good guys, Mel. A trailer rounds out the widescreen side. Turn the disc over for a 9-minute "The Stunts of Paparazzi" that deconstructs a stunt seen in the film-within-a-film that Bo's shooting. Bottom, consider thyself truly scraped. Clicking "Inside Look" from this side's main menu leapfrogs to an extended promo reel for Elektra. Originally published: July 1, 2005.