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
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
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
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