Paparazzi

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After “Paparazzi” flops at the box office, the USA Network should offer a few thousand for broadcast rights and slip it into their rotation of mediocre made-for-TV thrillers. I doubt anyone would notice that a theatrical release had somehow gotten into the mix.

Much has been made of the fact that this movie was directed by a Hollywood hairstylist named Paul Abascal instead of an experienced director, but believe me, the directing is only one of its problems. More significant, I would say, is the preposterous, laughable screenplay by Forrest Smith, also a first-timer. Even if Hitchcock had directed this, it would have turned out stupid. It just would have had cooler shots.

The film addresses a problem we have all dealt with at some point, the problem of tabloid photographers stalking us day and night and then causing an accident that almost kills our family. Who among us can claim not to have contemplated revenge at such times?

Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser), new Hollywood action star and family man, does more than contemplate revenge. He casually and at first somewhat accidentally enacts it! He is hassled first by Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), a sleazy photographer who keeps taking pictures of Bo’s wife (Robin Tunney) and son (Blake Bryan) when they’re out in public. When Rex refuses to cease his intrusive behavior, Bo punches him in the face, which is exactly what Rex wanted, since he had three of his sleazy associates hiding in a van, capturing the whole thing.

One night not long after this event, the quartet of paparazzi — who all work for a magazine called “Paparazzi,” by the way, a magazine that can be found in newsracks on every street corner, next to the LA Times — are pursuing the Laramie family in their cars, leading to an auto accident in which the wife and son are badly injured. There’s no proof the photogs caused the wreck, so it’s up to Bo to seek revenge on his own, while a useless police detective (Dennis Farina) lurks in the fringes and acts like Columbo.

Rex Harper is a ridiculously unmotivated bad guy, the sort of character who would have been rejected immediately if Forrest Smith had shown him to his Screenwriting 101 professor first. A scene of Rex alone in his dimly lit den of surveillance equipment and film canisters has him saying, to no one, “Bo Laramie, I’m going to destroy your life, and I’m going to enjoy doing it!” I can understand the frustration celebrities must feel with paparazzi — that’s one thing Abascal conveys pretty well — but making your villain a one-dimensional portrait of pure evil (he’s abusive to women, too, of course) only makes the audience laugh at you. Paparazzi don’t set out to destroy people’s lives; it’s a by-product of what they DO set out for, which is to take provocative photos that will make money for them.

Now, Bo Laramie is not blameless, either. In the movie’s system of values, if people harass your family and cause them injury — but not death — you are allowed to track the offenders down and murder them. Most movies have a eye-for-an-eye system: Bad guys don’t get killed unless they kill first. But “Paparazzi” considers invasion of privacy and causing a non-fatal car accident worthy of death — and, alarmingly, we are never expected to question this philosophy. Bo isn’t presented as an anti-hero, or someone who’s gone off the deep end. In fact, the one time he directly kills someone himself (instead of merely arranging the death through creative means), it’s not even shown to us — probably because if it were shown, we’d start thinking, “Wait, why did this guy deserve to die, exactly?”

The real treat in this lame cheese-fest is Tom Sizemore. He seems to have studied under William Shatner, randomly shouting some words while whispering the words right next to them. His performance is unintentionally hilarious, and ups the film’s enjoyability factor considerably. The whole movie is bad — grandiose, over-the-top and ridiculous — but it’s amusingly bad.

D+ (1 hr., 28 min.; PG-13, some profanity, a little violence, some very brief sexuality.)

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