I like to look at the celebrity pictures in the first few pages of People magazine, for example, and I know legions are like me. I often find these photos interesting in that they humanize stars and offer us sneak peeks into their lives beyond the movie screen. But at the same time, do we ever stop and wonder why the most mundane and normal moments of individuals who happen to be recognizable faces should somehow be of interest to the masses?

One thing’s for sure, no answers are found in Paul Abascal’s “Paparazzi”, a violent and rather clumsily told revenge fantasy starring Cole Hauser and Tom Sizemore. After supporting roles in films like “Hart’s War” and “Tears of the Sun”, Hauser gets his first lead role as Bo Laramie, a Hollywood actor stepping into the spotlight thanks to an action film called Adrenaline Force.

Hauser is well cast, I’ll give the film that, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t find a good measure of success in upcoming years. He bears the slightest resemblance to Sean Penn, and like Penn’s Jimmy Markum in Mystic River, Bo looks like somebody whose inner mean streak you better not unleash. An extremely sleazy paparazzi, Rex Harper (Sizemore), does just that as he decides to ruin Bo’s life and that of his wife Abby, played by Robin Tunney, and their six year-old son. It culminates in a horrific car accident caused by Harper and his posse of other lowlife shutterbugs: Bo’s son ends up in a coma and his wife is severely injured. When the authorities can’t make a case against the paparazzi, Bo embarks on a one-man mission of vengeance. One of the most credible screen lawmen, veteran actor Dennis Farina, plays a detective who develops strong suspicions about what’s going on but lets Bo off the hook.

A major problem is that we keep getting a sense that the characters know more than we do, and the way Bo goes about his personal mission makes you wonder if he’s an ace investigator or a movie star. Some of the dialogue is laughable (one slimeball says paparazzi are “the last real hunters” ?!?), and the whole film is terribly manipulative as directed by Abascal and written by Forrest Smith, both making their feature debut.

Bo is portrayed as an all-around good guy from Montana who resorts to vigilante justice when someone messes with his apple-pie family. And with such despicable characters as those paparazzi, even the most pacifist souls wouldn’t be blamed for feeling some satisfaction when the bad guys get what’s coming to them. But “Paparazzi” is done with such an absence of subtlety that I suspect we’ll soon see it on video store shelves, where it probably would have gone right away if not for the involvement of one of the producers, Mel Gibson, who covered some of the same moral ground in “Mad Max” and “Payback”.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay