The Death Wish movies, repugnant as they are, tapped into a primal and universal instinct in the populace, asking, "If your loved ones were grievously harmed, and the police did nothing about it, would you feel inclined to take the law into your own hands?" Enough people responded to inspire four sequels, but the audience may be significantly more limited for Paparazzi, a Death Wish-style vigilante picture made exclusively for celebrities. Though tabloid junkies may feel a twinge of guilt over the invasiveness of shooting Britney Spears as she traipses barefoot out of a gas-station restroom, they probably won't cancel their subscriptions to Us Weekly. But for the dozens of glamorous superstars who feel assaulted by the long lens, it's time to break out the popcorn, extra butter. Finally, a movie that speaks to them!
Produced by Mel Gibson, whose bottomless rage has surely been directed at a few shutterbugs in his day, Paparazzi follows the vigilante playbook in all its banality, without much in the way of moral reflection. C-lister Cole Hauser stars as a newly anointed action hero who involuntarily forsakes his private life when he steps into the Hollywood spotlight. With echoes of Princess Diana's death, Hauser and his family are ambushed on the road by four lowlife photographers, who nudge them into a horrific car accident, then take snapshots of the wreckage. With his wife (Robin Tunney) badly injured and their son languishing in a coma, Hauser quickly loses patience with the authorities and tries to exact justice on his own. But the villains, led by a maniacally seething Tom Sizemore, have some high-tech tricks up their sleeve.
Aside from a few winking cameos by Vince Vaughn, Matthew McConaughey, Chris Rock, and Gibson himself, Paparazzi tackles its subject with laughable solemnity. This is not some brain-dead piece of entertainment, the film implies; this is serious business. At times, hairdresser-turned-director Paul Abascal seems ready to turn the tables on his hero, whose stone-faced relentlessness in pursuing his enemies suggests a psychosis that runs just as deep. But perhaps it's a measure of movie-star self-obsession that Hauser comes out a righteous avenger instead of a lawless killer, even though chief detective Dennis Farina has the case well in hand. For celebrities to wish their paparazzi stalkers dead is a juvenile fantasy, one that Gibson and his film validate with an astonishing lack of irony.