A sleazy thriller which takes celebrity photo hounds to task for being sleazy, Paparazzi is a revenge flick under spin control. Produced by Mel Gibson (who pops up in one of several industry cameos), the film naturally sympathizes with the big star whose private time, wife, and child become subject to boundless scrutiny. That's fine, but the paparazzi are painted as so vile and inhuman that they have forfeited their right to walk the earth.
As played by Tom Sizemore (a scandal-rocked celebrity in his own right), the worst of the bunch tells his celebrity prey, "I'm going to destroy your life and eat your soul. And I can't wait to do it." It's easy enough to mock Gibson for making such a self-serving picture about media scrutiny. Certainly, the paparazzi get out of hand (the death of Lady Di, recalled by a similar car accident here, comes to mind); this we know. Is it a worthy subject for a film? Perhaps, but not this one.
Cole Hauser, the slowly rising star of 2 Fast 2 Furious, plays shooting star Bo Laramie. Laramie's action franchise resembles Gibson's Lethal Weapon gravy train. Arriving at a big premiere with his family, Bo admits to his young son that he doesn't know the people waiting at the red carpet; the boy replies, "I think they think they know you, Dad." Score one for the celebrities! Screenwriter Forrest Smith spends the first act conducting a symposium on all of the harmful and cruel tactics and consequences of the paparazzi and their employers, the gossip rags. In voice over, Laramie repeats the old chestnut that "primitive tribes" believe a piece of soul is taken with every picture.
Bo's problem stems from four photographers, in particular: Rex (Tom Sizemore), Wendell (Daniel Baldwin), Leonard (Tom Hollander), and Kevin (Kevin Gage). Each has a rap sheet and a disrespect for women; Rex lives on a seedy houseboat, just like Gibson's Lethal Weapon character (Paparazzi director Paul Abascal worked on the Lethal Weapon movies as a hairstylist before scoring this feature debut from Gibson's Icon Productions). Among the film's many questionable plot devices is the notion that paparazzi would work together so often when, after all, the real money is in exclusive photographs. Rex ringleads his lap dogs to cause trouble for Bo, who only asks that they leave his family alone.
Soon, Bo's wife (Robin Tunney, in a clock-punching part) is short a spleen and their son is in a coma. So much for anger management therapy! Bo learns to overcome his anger, alright...by getting even! With more smarts and an adjustment in tone, Paparazzi might have made an effective B noir movie (start by replacing Bo with a fading, Robert Blake-type in trouble). Instead, Smith and Abascal dither over whether Bo is a good guy or a bad guy. Even the most absurd of plots needs a prime mover, though, so Bo becomes a heroic brute: Braveheart as a movie star. As in Gibson's Ransom, Payback, and others, the evil-doers must pay, Old Testament style and irregardless of Dennis Farina's obsolete representative of legal justice (an ingratiating police detective). Baldwin's Wendell remarks of his inhumane profession, "We're the last of the real hunters," but boy, do the tables ever turn.