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Conspiracy Theory

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart

Review by MrBrown
2½ stars out of 4

Mel Gibson plays a paranoid, downright crazy New York cab driver obsessed with the idea of conspiracies. Suddenly, he finds himself the target of shady government types, apparently because one of his theories is true. On the run for his life, only a Justice Department investigator (Julia Roberts) can help him. Sounds like a strange cross between Lethal Weapon, Taxi Driver, and The Pelican Brief, and, for about half of its running time, Richard Donner's Conspiracy Theory does play as such. However, one wishes that Donner and company had remained on that track, for the film quickly degenerates into a murky mess that grows more hopelessly convoluted with each passing minute.

What makes Conspiracy Theory initially interesting--and promising--is Gibson's wacked-out cabbie, Jerry Fletcher. There are paranoid people and then there are people like Jerry, who even keeps his refrigerator and its contents under lock and key (one of the more inspired sight gags are the combination-locked jugs of coffee and pudding). Gibson, a proven pro at playing off-kilter characters, is so much fun to watch that we are interested when the contrived plot surfaces. Jerry voices his wild theories in a self-published newsletter (which lends the film its title), so when some government agents led by the mysterious Dr. Jonas (an underused Patrick Stewart) start chasing him, Jerry, his "friend" Alice Sutton (Roberts, well-cast), and the audience are led to believe that one of his wild ideas is indeed true.

Alas, if only it were that simple. Certainly, the scenario initially set up by writer Brian Helgeland is contrived, but at the very least it was easy to follow, and Donner directs the proceedings with an energetic urgency. But, as it turns out, it's nothing more than a red herring. Midway through a couple of new, complex plot elements are brought to the forefront: the long-ago murder of Alice's judge father and, most regrettably, a left-field development involving (yes) mind control. This twist would not have been as bothersome if it made some sense, but it never does, nor is everything clearly, satisfactorily explained. The way in which Conspiracy Theory hooks viewers with its questions (and fascinating protagonist) and then loses them with its answers more than recalls the recent thriller Smilla's Sense of Snow, even if the outlandishness of the plot "secrets" is not as awful as that of the half-baked Smilla.

Conspiracy Theory marks Gibson and Donner's fifth collaboration (following the three Lethal Weapons and Maverick)--and their least satisfying one. As it is, the film is a mildly diverting piece of popcorn entertainment, but it would have gone down a lot more smoothly had it not been too "clever" for its own good.

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