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A dish best served cold

“Paparazzi” trades realism for really harsh paybacks

Hollywood movies are never so absurd – and never so satisfying – as when they try to criticize the Hollywood system.

“Paparazzi,” the new revenge fantasy from TV director Paul Abascal, doesn’t have quite as many axes to grind as Robert Altman’s “The Player” (with which it shares a few plot points), nor does it go as far over the top as “Bowfinger” or “Get Shorty,” but despite some corny contrivances, it’s hard not to be drawn into the movie’s thrilling sadism.

Cole Hauser plays Bo Laramie, a square-jawed, rising action star who can’t seem to adjust to the fact that he lives in Hollywood, and not Montana. A group of paparazzi, led by the indescribably vile Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore), causes a car accident that puts Laramie’s son in a coma. With his family threatened, Laramie goes on a revenge spree as efficient, if not nearly as bloody, as Uma Thurman’s in “Kill Bill.”

Sizemore’s character is an expert stalker, an expert manipulator and an expert irritator. He seems wasted on the relatively low-stakes work of taking candid celebrity photos. No doubt a real-life individual with all these skills would be doing something really evil, like running a big movie studio.

Hauser, in contrast, plays a thick, though apparently educated, macho man. His revenge takes a little while to build up steam, as the script patiently leads him to coincidence after coincidence in a bid to shock him into turning from actor to killer.

Although this reluctance to plunge into the action is a little annoying, it does build up the audience’s bloodlust in a crude but effective manner. When the angry actor starts exacting his revenge on the bodies of his tormentors, one can’t help but tremble with excitement.

“Paparazzi” has little or nothing to say about the actual issues of privacy and celebrity in a media-saturated age. It’s not as though any of the paparazzi depicted have a single redeeming quality. They lie, cheat, steal and harass. At one point, Daniel Baldwin, who plays Sizemore’s character’s chief henchman, brags about taking a picture of some anonymous woman, and passing it off as a compromising shot of Jennifer Lopez. There’s no honor among photographers.

We also never get to see the effects of the action on Hauser’s character’s career, which would almost certainly be both massive and positive. Given the many tabloids, tabloid TV programs and the persistent race to the bottom on the part of legitimate news outlets, the events described in the film would catapult any actor into the limelight for months or years.

Even though most of “Paparazzi” strains at our willing suspension of disbelief, it’s always a treat to see the entertainment industry skewer itself with such gusto.

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