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With nothing of interest for movie fans or critics, and hidden from both on Labor Day Weekend, why did this movie even get made? Because Mel Gibson said so, that's why.


In Paparazzi, celebrity photographers are an affliction that torment tens, if not dozens, of residents of Brentwood, the Hollywood Hills, and Malibu. Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is one such denizen. As Hollywood's brightest new action star, Laramie, along with his wife Abby (Robin Tunney), is set to enjoy the sweet ride of success, until paparazzo Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore) and his marauding band of slimy shutterbugs turn his life into a living hell. Or at least, a fairly large inconvenience. With a blatant nod to Princess Di, the pesky paparazzi cause a high-speed car wreck, which sends Bo's son Zach (Blake Bryan) into a coma of convenient duration, and results in the loss of Abby's spleen. Which is fitting, as the movie has no discernible spleen of its own. And so our hero, who has obviously not received the standard studio briefing on the joys of contract killers, takes matters (and a baseball bat) into his own hands. The model for Paparazzi is the vigilante movie: Death Wish, Billy Jack, Walking Tall, and the like. But whereas Bronson's Paul Kersey devolved from architect to cold-blooded killer only when faced with impossibly high stakes (the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter), Laramie, by contrast, turns into a serial killer, and a sloppy one at that, over a little retinal glare. And doing it all by himself? One imagines the Anthony Pellicanos of the world dispatching guys like Harper during a Pilates break.


It's problematic asking non-movie stars to play huge movie stars, for obvious reasons. Bo Laramie is supposed to be the biggest thing since Ah-nuld held his day job, but as Hauser plays him, he comes off more like Michael Dudikoff. Even as he's beating paparazzi to death with his own hands, there is no sense of a human being, or even a movie star, being pushed to his limits. Tunney, who was terrific in Niagara, Niagara, has nothing to do, and neither does Dennis Farina as the cop conflicted by the A-list avenger. Sizemore, of course, steals every scene he's in, effortlessly and ruthlessly. In spite of his recent legal troubles (or perhaps because of them), he brings just the right dosage of dangerous persona and edgy charisma to his growing roster of manic miscreants. Ultimately though, even his involvement is disappointing: When he's on screen he fools you into thinking a real movie is about to start.


First-time director Paul Abascal is but a pawn in Mel Gibson's dogmatic production slate. Screenwriter Forrest Smith had a small role with Gibson in We Were Soldiers, and reportedly leveraged the moment to pitch Paparazzi to the actor/producer/Catholic poster boy. Gibson has had issues with his privacy before, and has already proved himself shameless in using the movies to promote an agenda. So, as with The Passion of the Christ, a movie that wouldn't have gotten so much as a sniff at any other studio, found itself with a green light. And Bo Laramie became family man/action hero Gibson's violent alter ego. Or maybe just ego. (Gibson also has a brief cameo, and the one sheet for Laramie's ''movie'' Adrenaline Force 2 is a dead ringer for the poster art for Lethal Weapon 2). With Gibson's personal profits alone surpassing the $400 million mark with this week's Passion DVD sales, and Paparazzi's budget listed at $20 million, Gibson could make 20 sequels to Paparazzi. Or he could use the producer's pulpit to speak out against other vexations in his life. Somewhere at Icon world headquarters, Leaf Blower: The Movie just went into pre-production.

Bottom Line

Worthless as a film, Paparazzi is a $20 million poison pen letter from Mel Gibson to the photographers who annoy him.