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Conspiracy Theory

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewvideo review
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Walter Frith read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
5.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

It can now be revealed. A cabal of screenwriters are toiling away in the basements of their Hollywood mansions with a scheme to sap the brainpower of our nation by dumbing down American movies. As proof that this conspiracy exists, consider as evidence the script by Brian Helgeland for the new Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts picture, CONSPIRACY THEORY. Helgeland's previous works include such intellectual tour de forces as NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, 976-EVIL, HIGHWAY TO HELL, and ASSASSINS.

The packed audience at the advanced screening of CONSPIRACY THEORY became almost outraged at the picture. Serious lines generated massive laughter because they were simultaneously ridiculous and stilted. At one point, a guy shouted an insult about the picture's quality and the audience broke into applause.

In Warner Brothers's defense, the project must have sounded promising when the producers, Lauren Shuler-Donner and Joel Silver, pitched it to them. The producers had a successful director, Richard Donner, two big stars, Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts, and a promising premise. Donner, who directed Gibson in all of the LETHAL WEAPON films, would use Gibson's ability to create quirky characters to maximum advantage. Gibson would be a conspiracy theory kook named Jerry Fletcher, who has some serious but unexplained mental problems.

The film opens promisingly and stays that way for the first ten minutes. Seeing just that part and then leaving is the winning strategy for this film since the quality goes straight downhill as soon as Patrick Stewart appears on the scene in the overwritten and overacted role of Dr. Jonas, a psychiatrist in a secret part of our "spook" community. (In one of the film's more laughable bad snippets of dialog, one of the agents describes the organization saying, "If the intelligence community is a family, think of us as the uncle no one talks about.")

In the beginning, we learn many of the theories concocted by Jerry Fletcher, an especially bizarre New York City taxi driver: The new $100 bills have tiny transmitters. NASA is angry over budget cuts so they are sending a space shuttle to cause an earthquake that will kill the president on his upcoming trip to Turkey. The Vietnam War was fought over a bet that Howard Hughes lost to Aristotle Onassis. And to make sure he is current on all the latest theories of others, he listens to what sounds like Conspiracy Talk Radio. On it we find that Jack Ruby did not kill Lee Harvey Oswald since it was not Ruby who fired the shots and the person killed was only someone who looked like Oswald.

Julia Roberts, who should have worn a dunce cap on her head for all of the unbelievable things she was called upon to say and do, plays Alice Sutton, a member of the Justice department. In the first of many implausible aspects of the story, we learn that her last case was the investigation into the murder of her own father, a judge. Alice walks into dark buildings loaded with heavily armed rogue agents ready to kill her, but neither takes weapons nor calls for help. She trusts people who have "bad guy" tattooed on their forehead. And she is not the least bit scared when a mental case like Fletcher brandishes a big gun at her and two cops. The latter happened not long after she had said of Fletcher, "This guy's a restraining order waiting to happen," since he followed her so obsessively.

Speaking of obsessive. Fletcher lives in a metal-lined secret room. His door has four locks, his refrigerator one and even the coffee beans and the grapefruit juice inside the fridge are in locked containers.

After this setup, the aforementioned Dr. Jonas, creeps onto the scene. In a surreal sequence modelled after the interrogation scene from 1984, Dr. Jonas questions Fletcher while his eyes are taped open and bright strobe lights drive him and the audience crazy. Finally, borrowing from CHINATOWN, Fletcher tries to bite off the doctor's nose. Bloods oozes out of Fletcher's mouth in a gory image that adds nothing other than shock value.

In a film with more low points than Death Valley, two stand out as much worse than the others. When Fletcher escapes, Dr. Jonas and company track him down with their computers. Since Fletcher is known to like "The Catcher in the Rye," the spook's computers scan constantly for anyone in New York City buying a copy of the novel. As soon as someone does, they send a large assassination team to capture the buyer, who conveniently turns out to be Fletcher. There is even a shiny black helicopter that flies down one of Manhattan's main streets and drops a squad of killers from ropes onto a busy intersection.

The film's other "delight" is the explanation of the mystery surrounding Fletcher that Dr. Jonas gives to Alice. Contrived would be the most charitable thing that can be said of this part of the plot.

Editor Frank J. Urioste exercises little self-control. Many pointless scenes are left in and others are allowed to go on way past their welcome. The result is a film as tedious as it is ridiculous.

Yes, Virginia, there is a conspiracy. And this show is but one of many that prove the theory.

CONSPIRACY THEORY runs far too long at 2:15. It is rated R for gore and profanity. The film would be fine for most teenagers. I do not recommend the movie and give it * 1/2 only for the two good leading performances in an awful movie.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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