Mel Gibson may only be credited as a producer on Paparazzi, but his fingerprints are all over this obnoxious and deeply stupid revenge story. Everything we've come to learn about the reclusive actor is on display here, from his persecution complex to his general disdain for psychiatry. Call it The Passion of the Movie Star.
Cole Hauser plays Gibson's stand-in Bo Langdon, a fresh-faced actor from Montana who becomes an overnight sensation when his new action film Adrenaline Force opens to spectacular box-office grosses. Even though Bo is now the unofficial King of Hollywood, he remains a contended family man, living quietly in a modest Malibu mansion with his adoring wife Abby (Robin Tunney) and their cute-as-a-button son Zach (Blake Bryan). But he soon discovers that stardom comes with a price; his newfound fame has made him the target of a roving gang of celebrity photographers who work for the town's most popular tabloid, creatively named Paparazzi. These aggressive shutterbugs are led by Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), a scumbag extraordinaire whose hobbies include skulking around public parks and snapping compromising photos of Bo's family.
Bo is understandably upset at Rex's constant harassment, but when he confronts his tormenter with some righteous Montana justice (in the form of a punch to the jaw), he finds himself slapped with a lawsuit and forced to attend an emasculating anger-management class. Meanwhile off in his evil lair (a dingy houseboat in the Malibu harbor), Rex plots to "destroy [Bo's] life and eat your soul," which apparently translates as causing a horrible auto wreck that leaves Abby without a spleen and Zach in a coma. Now that Rex and his boys have officially Crossed The Line, Bo turns to the LAPD's Detective Burton (Dennis Farina, warming up for his new role on "Law & Order") for help, but quickly grows frustrated with the cop's inability to connect the paparazzi to the crime. So he decides it's time to take matters into his own hands, devising imaginative ways to off the gang one by one until only Rex remains.
Even by the low standards of cheesy revenge movies, Paparazzi is pretty terrible. You can spot every plot point coming a mile away and the action sequences are barely direct-to-video quality. Then there's the problem of the film's so-called hero; most screen vigilantes tend to be blue-collar types like Joe Don Baker's Buford Pusser or Charles Brosnan's Paul Kersey, regular guys whom viewers can identity with and want to see take their revenge. It's harder to root for a privileged movie star like Bo, especially since initially he seems more inconvenienced than endangered. Considering all the money he's raking in, it shouldn't be too difficult to hire additional security. Besides, if any real paparazzi were to flagrantly break the law the way Rex and his guys do, they'd be in jail instead of working for a national magazine. For a movie supposedly made by Hollywood insiders (first-time director Paul Abascal was formerly a hairdresser to the stars, including one Mr. Mel Gibson), Paparazzi doesn't seem to have any idea of how Hollywood actually works.
However, the film does speak volumes about the way Gibson might view his hometown. It's difficult to miss the similarities between Mel and Bo (both come from humble beginnings, both shun the Hollywood party scene, both live in Malibu) and the film's righteous indignation against the paparazzi reflects Gibson's own attitude towards the media during the hullabaloo over The Passion of the Christ. As the movie progresses, you can't help but wonder if the actor's involvement went beyond merely producing. (The screenplay is credited to a Forrest Smith, but a quick Internet search turns up no additional credits, or, indeed, any biographical information about this guy.) Paparazzi is certainly the kind of disturbing revenge fantasy that could come from someone who has been through the Hollywood machine. It's doubtful that the majority of moviegoers will identify with this story, though, let alone cheer as the rich, handsome movie star gets away with murder.