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Celebrities who shoot back at the paparazzi

September 03, 2004|James Verini | Special to The Times

Here's the plot of "Paparazzi," which Fox is releasing today: A newly minted action movie star moves to Hollywood, gets hounded by four irredeemably villainous paparazzi and, after they nearly kill his family, resolves to exact bloody revenge.

That synopsis might have been prefaced with "In a nutshell," except that, in this case, there is no nutshell. That is the movie, in its entirety, all nuance and subtext included. Oh, there are also some entertaining cameo appearances (watch for the shucking and jiving pizza delivery guy toward the end).

"Paparazzi" is, in other words, "Dirty Harry" for the Malibu gated-estate set, a revenge fantasy of the simplest sort. "The Count of Monte Cristo" it is not.

What's going on behind "Paparazzi's" camera, however, is richer and quite a bit zanier. It involves the ongoing legal troubles of blustery character actor and former Heidi Fleiss paramour Tom Sizemore, a former NFL wide receiver turned screenwriter, prison, an enraged British photographer and Mel Gibson's sometime hairdresser.

The adage "only in Hollywood" is shopworn, but in this case it really may be apt.

The movie is absent of marquee names, aside from its producer -- Gibson. Made by his company Icon Entertainment and distributed by Fox, "Paparazzi" is Gibson's follow-up to "The Passion of the Christ."

After the controversy surrounding that movie, Gibson has been famously disgruntled -- or, at least, not particularly gruntled -- with the Fourth Estate in general. Case in point: It took his publicist, Alan Nierob, all of two seconds to summarily dismiss a request to interview Gibson.

The director of "Paparazzi" is Paul Abascal, whose handiwork you've likely seen, even if you don't know his name. For years, Abascal was one of the most sought-after hairstylists in Hollywood.

He did Gibson's increasingly pouffy bouffant through the first three installments of the "Lethal Weapon" quadrilogy. He's been a favorite of Bruce Willis, preparing the actor's ever-scanter follicles across the "Die Hard" trilogy ("Sometimes you have a period epic you're dealing with and other times you're there just taking care of a cool guy who doesn't have that much hair," Abascal said) and of Sylvester Stallone in Stallone's midcareer sci-fi period ("Judge Dredd," "Demolition Man").

Things get weirder.

By dint of the subject matter, "Paparazzi" is generating a lot of buzz around town. A private screening of the film on the Fox lot Aug. 25 was filled with agents and executives. There were cheers going up from the crowd followed by impassioned clapping at the end, according to several sources in attendance. "It's like 'Death Wish'!" Creative Artists Agency agent Fred Specter was heard gushing to Sizemore's publicist.

But Specter might have done better with a more realistic comparison. For in addition to the other odd factors surrounding "Paparazzi," its cast has been afflicted with some very serious legal trouble.

Sizemore, who plays the head bad-guy paparazzo, was arrested Aug. 11 on charges of drug possession after police raided his home in West Hollywood. (No court date has been set.) If it sticks, according to a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman, the charge will represent a parole violation for Sizemore, who in August 2003 was convicted on seven of 16 misdemeanor counts, including physically abusing and harassing Fleiss. Mike Rovell, Sizemore's lead criminal attorney, said they are appealing the conviction. As to the most recent arrest, Rovell said, "I'd hate to see [Sizemore] shunned by the Hollywood community because of an unproven charge." Sizemore's publicist, Nancy Seltzer, said of her client: "He's at a place that it's wise to let his work speak for itself."

In the film, that work comes in the form of a guy who's not only a paparazzo but also an accused rapist who was acquitted thanks to the help of a disbarred lawyer-turned-paparazzo who turned to tabloids after being brought up on drug charges. (The later is played by English character actor Tom Hollander, who you may remember from such fare as the recent BBC production of "Nicholas Nickleby.")

Another paparazzo is played by actor Kevin Gage. When his manager, Tim Taylor, was contacted for an interview request, an awkward moment ensued.

"Kevin isn't really ... in the business anymore," Taylor said.

Not in the ... business anymore?

"Well, to tell you the truth, he's in prison," he said.

In 2003, it turns out, Gage was sent to prison with a sentence of 41 months for cultivating marijuana. The actor has been a public proponent of medical marijuana production and use.

Fox had no comment on Sizemore and Gage.

"I'd heard about Sizemore -- he's in the news all the time for this stuff," Abascal said. "I had no idea about Kevin. I feel bad for both of those guys. In my opinion, they're both major talents who have no business having to deal with the law in that way."

Moving from the law to his career, Abascal was asked whether there are similarities between hairstyling and directing.

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