What would you do if a pack of unscrupulous photographers stalked your every move? What would you do if they incessantly took pictures of your kids? What would you do if they told damaging lies about you? What would you do if they caused a terrible accident, leaving your wife mentally incapacitated and your son in a coma?
These are the questions Paparazzi asks. Its answer? Revenge.
Paparazzi tells the story of a group of ruthless photographers who will stop at nothing to capture celebrities in compromising situations. Their latest target is action star and Hollywood newcomer Bo Laramie. The actor, along with his young wife and son, are reveling in Hollywood success following the premier of his blockbuster, Adrenaline Force. He doesn't quite realize yet that everything in his life is now "fair game" for public consumption.
Things go too far for Bo when a photographer turns up at his son's soccer game. Bo politely asks him to leave. The photographer, Rex Harper, replies. "Look, things have changed. You're somebody now. You'd better get used to it." Bo doesn't get used to it, and the press just presses harder. A second confrontation ends when Harper baits Bo into hitting him, then opens a van door to reveal three other photogs who've captured the assault. In lieu of jail time Bo is ordered to anger-management classes with a well-known L.A. therapist.
That doesn't stop the tension from continuing to escalate, though. While being chased by the flash-happy "journalists," the actor slams on his brakes and is broadsided. He escapes without serious injury, but his wife needs surgery and his son ends up comatose. Bo snaps, and morphs into a cold-blooded killer bent on avenging the paparazzi's treatment of his family. One by one, he pursues his photo-assailants and metes out permanent "justice" for the damage they've done.
Bo's son asks why his dad is on the cover of a tabloid with a strategically placed black box over his naked anatomy. An actor on the set shows Bo a tabloid that says he went to Europe for surgery to enhance his manliness. A scene with the paparazzi happens in a strip club. (We see dancers onstage clothed in lingerie.) One of the photographers crudely propositions a female patron, who rejects him. The men then discuss whether or not she's a lesbian. It's insinuated that Harper has sex with a woman he met in the strip club.
At a Hollywood screening, one of the photographers insinuates that Bo was flirting with a woman on a flight from London. It's a lie, but he's intentionally trying to destroy Bo and Abby's marriage. Rex uses a videotape he made of himself having sex with a woman to blackmail her. (An unfocused and small image of their encounter is visible briefly on a TV in the background.) When Abby is unconscious after the accident, one of the photographers reaches into the car and pulls her shirt down slightly to reveal more cleavage before taking her picture.
In a confrontation with Rex, Bo picks up the man's camera and throws it, then hits him square in the jaw, after which Rex falls to the ground near the van. After Bo's car is hit by the truck, the paparazzi take a bunch of pictures of the unconscious family, who are sprawled out in the crushed car. They have bruises and small cuts visible. The photographers completely ignore a bleeding man on the hood of the truck that hit the actor's car. Pulling onto the highway, Bo fails to see Kevin Rosner on his motorcycle, and forces him off the road and over a precipice. Instead of saving the photographer, Bo lets him fall screaming to his death.
[Spoiler Warning] Bo plants a gun in the car of photographer Leonard Clark, and engineers a plan in which the man discovers the gun just as he's pulled over by the police. When the officers see him holding the gun, they immediately open fire and kill him. Bo waits for another photographer, Wendell Stokes, at the man's home. When he arrives, we see the actor holding a baseball bat. Later, Rex breaks into the house and finds Stokes' body. Meanwhile, Bo frames the photographer, and makes sure there's plenty of blood visible in the man's house, especially on the window shades. In the final scene, Bo beats up Rex Harper badly and holds a gun on him until the police arrive. (The actor gloats that he's gotten away with murder and about how happy he is that Harper will be the fall guy.)
Drug and Alcohol Content
The paparazzi smoke and drink in the strip club. Other scenes also depict the men drinking hard liquor. A heavily sedated Abby Laramie sits by the pool with a half-full wine glass.
Other Negative Elements
Bo lies repeatedly to a police detective named Burton in his attempt to cover up the murders and frame Rex Harper. Detective Burton figures out what's happening eventually, but does nothing to bring Bo to justice. The detective seems to want to help Bo get revenge and gives him the men's addresses and criminal records—which Bo uses to his advantage.
The paparazzi alter photographs, push people into compromising situations, and lie about the identity of the people in their pictures. They'll do anything to make celebrities look bad and inflate the value of their own "services" to the public. Rex Harper pays two Latinos to steal the Laramies' garbage.
Revenge movies are a Hollywood staple. Americans, it would seem, love vigilante justice. You don't have to look any farther than the three Die Hard and four Lethal Weapon movies to see that we have a taste for watching bad guys get their violent comeuppance. Indeed, creatively dispatching the villain in a climactic battle has become a twisted kind of Hollywood art form. Rumor has it that Mel Gibson suggested the idea for this movie after he and several other veteran actors swapped photographer horror stories. Gibson was also one of the producers of the film, which was made by his company, Icon Productions. The result is a film that doggedly follows the formula by presenting photographers who are so despicable that we enjoy hating them. Director Paul Abascal draws a compelling performance from veteran action actor Tom Sizemore. His portrayal of Rex Harper makes him easy to despise, and the audience, of course, looks forward to seeing him get what's coming.
But Paparazzi does deviate from the formula in several significant ways. [Spoiler Warning] First, Bo's wife and son don't die. Second, even though the photographers continue to harass Bo, they're not trying to kill him. Finally, Bo doesn't kill these men in self-defense. The murders are calculated and cold-blooded. Thus, Bo becomes an increasingly problematic character, as he never exhibits any remorse for his actions.
More importantly, the film deliberately avoids critiquing Bo's vindictiveness. One of the most important characters in the film, Detective Burton, begins to figure out what's happening to the paparazzi. But in the end, he takes no action to bring Bo to real justice. As I watched, I hoped Burton would step in and become the real hero of the film. Had he done so, it would have sent the message that the paparazzi's actions are inexcusable, but so is a violent, vigilante response. As it is, the film's moral is a dangerous one in our already violent society: If someone harasses you, kill him.