THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Labor Day weekend – I like to call it Hollywood’s trash can. If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the major studios will unceremoniously dump their most embarrassing and inept movies on this weekend. These are the films that quite simply couldn’t hack it during the regular summer season, so they are relegated to its final weekend, where they’ll still likely get their butts kicked by pictures that have already been playing for a month. Labor Day 2004’s big entry is Paparazzi, and it is about as bottom-of-the-barrel as you can get.

Cole Hauser plays the improbably named actor Bo Laramie, who has just scored his first blockbuster with a movie called “Adrenaline Force.” (Would you want to see a movie with such a lame title? Me neither.) Because Bo turns into an overnight sensation, the paparazzi start following him wherever he goes. They even take pictures of his wife Abby (Robin Tunney) and his son Zach (Blake Bryan). Bo confronts one of them – Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore) – and politely asks him not to photograph the family. Harper makes a rude comment about snapping nude photos of Abby, so Bo punches him out. The enraged photographer then vows to destroy Bo’s life “and enjoy doing it.”

Harper and his fellow shutterbugs come up with a plan to ambush Bo and his family as they drive home one night. Their actions result in a car accident that injures Abby and puts Zach in a coma. Frustrated by the lack of police cooperation, Bo decides to get rid of Harper and company once and for all by arranging their deaths or outright murdering them. It is a sign of this film’s dramatic lameness that Zach doesn’t come out of the coma until all the bad guys are dead.

Paparazzi marks the first feature film from Paul Abascal who, I learn from the press notes, was previously “one of the most sought-after hair stylists in Hollywood.” (Among other films, he did the hair for the first three Lethal Weapon films, which starred Paparazzi producer Mel Gibson.) The screenplay was written by Forrest Smith, a former pro football player for the Seattle Seahawks turned motivational speaker. These guys don’t seem to know much about the world they’re portraying, and it shows. The movie is not only laughably bad, it is also woefully simplistic in its depiction of the paparazzi.

Anyone who has ever watched an episode of “Celebrities Uncensored” on the E! channel knows why the paparazzi (or, more accurately, the “stalkerazzi”) do what they do: money. A shot of Jennifer Aniston sunbathing, or Ben Affleck canoodling, or Britney Spears smoking a cigarette can earn a photographer tens of thousands of dollars. If they happen to snap a picture of something scandalous, that figure can go even higher. It’s a high stakes game where big money can be earned very quickly. That’s why some of the paparazzi resort to unethical and inflammatory techniques. The guys in this film, however, don’t have that kind of motivation. Without fail, they are portrayed as dirty, uneducated scumbags who ruin Bo Laramie’s life just because they can. When a movie is so dishonest – so ignorant – about its own subject matter, it’s impossible for the audience to care about anything that happens.

That is the major problem with Paparazzi, but it also suffers from just plain badness. The screenplay is poorly written, the direction is ineffective, and there are scenes that achieve unintentional hilarity. At one point, Chris Rock inexplicably cameos as a pizza delivery boy who is awed to meet big-time movie star Bo Laramie. Because Chris Rock is a major star with tons of charisma – and because Cole Hauser is a relatively unknown character actor with talent but no discernable movie star shine - the scene is almost Twilight Zone-ish in its weirdness.

A few other famous faces pop in for cameos, and most likely they’ll all be humiliated once they see the final product. I’m sure that everyone who got involved in this project did so believing that they were sending a message to the real-life paparazzi. I’m sure they wanted to publicly condemn paparazzi techniques and imply that stars could, as a unit, revolt if they wanted to. Paparazzi was doubtlessly intended as both a warning and an insult. There was an episode of “Seinfeld” in which a co-worker insulted George Costanza. After the fact, George devised a scheme in which he was going to lob the following bon mot in return: “The jerk store called; they want you back.” Jerry, Kramer, and Elaine tried in vain to tell George that the “jerk store” remark was not only ineffective, but it was also embarrassingly stupid. Paparazzi is the movie equivalent of “jerk store.”

( out of four)

Paparazzi is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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