In a summer of better movies, I'd probably give
CONSPIRACY THEORY a lower star rating, but 1997's mid-year
crop of blockbusters has been less than noteworthy, and that's
made even this muddled Mel Gibson / Julia Roberts thriller seem
entertaining overall. Yes, I know it's got a convoluted plot, recycled
action scenes and a main character whose characterization shifts
abruptly and without explanation, but there are enough moments
of genuine suspense that I liked it most of the time. And, come on,
it's the only Mel-Julia teamup this side of PRETTY WEAPON... or
was it LETHAL WOMAN?
Mel plays a cabdriver who, in his spare time, writes
newsletters with his own personal conspiracy theories. We hear
about 15 or 20 of them during the opening credits and they're all
pretty laughable. It's easy to see why no one takes him seriously -- in
fact, the first reel is almost satire. Mel is way over the top as a guy
who keeps combination locks on his coffee and juice jars and
actually believes "the Vietnam War was fought over a bet Howard
Hughes lost to Aristotle Onassis."
Mel's character is a complete kook who shows up regularly
at Julia's Justice Department office to warn her of all the things he
believes will come true. Yeah, she's just pretty enough to have her
own personal stalker, as we find out when Mel sits in the street,
watching her jog on her apartment treadmill and sing along to the
appropriate "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." And, yes, the movie
does come complete with its own hip-hop "Can't Take My Eyes Off
You" remake by the Fugees, which should be killed softly.
With all this workplace harrassment and stalking, it's pretty
hard to feel much sympathy for Mel's character until his paranoia
pays off and government baddie (sorry, I've been waiting for months
to use the phrase "government baddie") Patrick Stewart kidnaps
him. Stewart is so evil that one of the gossipy old biddies that sat
behind me in the theater said to her friend, "Oh, he's depraved."
Another pearl of wisdom from the biddies, this time about Julia:
"She's got pretty eyes."
Stewart ties Mel down to a wheelchair and gives him an
injection ("truth serum," according to the biddies, who wouldn't shut
up). He wants to know information about the Romulans or
something, but Mel bites his nose off and makes a hasty action
movie escape -- while still in the wheelchair, no less. He high-tails it
back to Julia's office to tell her all about Stewart and his phasers.
This begins a lengthy series of captures and escapes, while slowly
Mel seems less and less crazy and certain open plot threads are
brought together in predictable ways.
Still, CONSPIRACY THEORY has enough sequences that
work that I can almost forgive the use and abuse of action flick
convention, some of which director Richard Donner pioneered in the
LETHAL WEAPON trilogy. And the star power of Mel and Julia, a
$32 million salary between them, lifts this above the level of the
typical paranoia formula thriller. CONSPIRACY THEORY is
entertaining and it even kills my conspiracy theory about Julia
Roberts and Patrick Stewart being the same person.
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks