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Conspiracy Theory
  [rating: 1 of 4 stars]movie review by Gary Johnson

Conspiracy Theory is built around an intriguing premise: a conspiracy-obsessed cab driver who spouts wacky theories to his passengers suddenly stumbles onto a big-time conspiracy--"I don't know what I know, but I know that it's big." Jerry Fletcher even prints his own conspiracy newsletter (with a grand total of 5 subscribers) where he claims connections between earthquakes and Shuttle flights and says the right-wing militias are actually UN troops! ("Can you prove any of this?" "Absolutely not.") He keeps his refrigerator padlocked and combination locks on his orange juice and tapioca pudding.

So why is this movie such a disappointment? Well, part of the problem is Mel Gibson himself. It's one thing to buy Dustin Hoffman as the Rain Main. But Mel Gibson as a not-quite-altogether cab driver? His only concession to playing a not-quite glamorous character is his knit cap, which he wears constantly. But other than that, Jerry Fletcher must be one of the cutest, most endearing conspiracy mongers of all time. Sure, he goes over the edge with his obsession for a beautiful lawyer. But, hey, she's played by Julia Roberts! Who can blame him? From recent Late Night interviews, even the usually sullen David Letterman seems to be smitten with Ms. Roberts.

Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts
Conspiracy Theory.
(©1997 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.)

Possibly after winning an Academy Award with Braveheart, Gibson believed he could play any character. But he's in way over his head in this movie. Early on, it becomes clear that Gibson will never really become believable as a mentally-challenged cab driver, but I kept hoping the movie would be fun nonetheless. However, Conspiracy Theory just continues to become more wildly improbable with each scene. Before long, Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson fall in love, she fires off gunshots at her foes, and she knocks two guys unconscious. Julia Roberts as an action star?

Director Richard Donner has fashioned a big, action blockbuster along the lines of his Lethal Weapon movies, but this type of approach only jerks the characters around at the service of a hokey plot. Conspiracy Theory is sort of like The Manchurian Candidate without any plausibility. We even get Patrick Stewart doing his impression of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. That's part of the problem with this movie: everything feels as if we've seen it before. Ultimately, Conspiracy Theory is perfect material for a big, goofy comic book-like approach, but Donner doesn't know how to embrace the material's hokiness. He gives us a big, clumsy, conventional action tale that holds no surprises. Even when the screenplay provides an interesting idea, such as Jerry Fletcher's obsession with Catcher in the Rye (he compulsively purchases the book whenever he sees it), Donner only uses the idea to create some pre-fabricated poignancy and then he rushes away for some more action.

Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.
(©1997 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.)

Conspiracy Theory is a tolerable but unspectacular movie until it starts showing us that Jerry's fears are real. Someone is really after him. Instead of toying with the suspense--has Jerry really stumbled upon a conspiracy?--Donner gives away the plot and that only leaves us with chases and explosions and gun fire. Conventional noisy stuff. That's the biggest problem with this movie: Donner strips away character so all that remains are the pyrotechnics--as if Donner is only comfortable as a filmmaker when helicopters are swirling around the actors and grenade launchers are blowing buildings into splinters.

To justify its huge 130 minute running time, Donner has built Conspiracy Theory into a bloated suspense/thriller--regardless of how that approach trounces on the character of Jerry Fletcher and makes the entire movie ludicrous. Conspiracy Theory is a huge disappointment.


Go to the Conspiracy Theory Web site

Go to the Warner Bros. Web site

A Silver Pictures Production


Jerry FletcherMel Gibson
Alice SuttonJulia Roberts
Dr. JonasPatrick Stewart
Agent LowryClyk Cozart
Directed byRichard Donner
Produced byJoel Silver
Richard Donner
Screenplay byBrian Helgeland
Director of PhotographyJohn Schwartzman
Production DesignerPaul Sylbert
Edited byFrank J. Urioste
Music byCarter Burwell
Co-ProducersDan Cracchiolo
J. Mills Goodloe
Rick Solomon
Executive ProducerJim Van Wyck
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