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Conspiracy Theory

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

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

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