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Conspiracy Theory
Starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts and Patrick Stewart
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland
Directed by Richard Donner

IN SHORT: A piece of this a piece of that. Stir slowly and enjoy.

It's like pushing a boulder down a mountain. The big rock starts to roll very slowly. As gravity kicks in, the speed increases and then you better get the hell out of the way. So it is with Conspiracy Theory, which takes its own sweet time to set up, and then kicks in with both barrels blazing.

Not those kind of barrels -- Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) may be paranoid and, perhaps, psychotic, but he doesn't pull a trigger. He does know how to rig incendiary devices, though. He also knows when FBI agents are faking unconsciousness; that NASA is plotting to kill the President, and that there is a memory that he can't recall -- and it's making him nuts.

Jerry drives a cab -- then again, to us New Yorkers most cab drivers are nuts. Driving is something to do as he documents various conspiracies against the common man, in a newsletter he publishes called Conspiracy Theory. You'd think that keeping an eye peeled for the Men in Black; publishing a widely circulated journal and holding down a full time job would be enough to fill his life until he gets his eventual trip to the funny farm.


In his spare time Jerry stalks U.S. Justice Department attorney Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts). He waits outside her apartment at night. He's on a first name basis with the security guards at her office where he goes to spout his theories about "they" and "them." She tolerates him because he saved her from being mugged, once upon a time.

Lest you think that Gibson's character is the only one seeking conspiracies, Robert's character continues to investigate the murder of her father despite the arrest and conviction of the killer. Despite her boss telling her to lay off the case. Hmmm...

And there's another group of spooks overseeing everything.

Richard Donner's Conspiracy Theory, starts slowly, hampered by an atrocious sound mix in the title sequence. Jerry spouts his spout. Jerry unlocks dinner. Jerry visits Alice. Jerry mails copies of his newsletter from different mailboxes. Jerry gets kidnaped and tortured.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland has taken a couple of classic movie bits, adds a brilliant MacGuffin of his own invention and builds a clever story. Director Richard Donner takes the mold and fills it with Julia Roberts as the damsel in distress, and a disarmingly humorous performance by Mel Gibson to make a pretty good flick, despite an attempted surprise ending which isn't.

Ah yes, you want to know more about the kidnap and torture bit. Fine. The man standing in front of the interrogation lights is "CIA psychiatrist" Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart), whose introduction mirrors Laurence Olivier's Mengele in Marathon Man. Jonas is downright creepy, and he doesn't have to say a word to make your skin crawl.

Gibson's nutzoid role is more than that. Jerry is a deliciously sweet tempered paranoid. Not only does he padlock his refrigerator, lest someone get in and tamper with his food, he padlocks the food. What isn't kept in the fridge is jailed in the pantry behind a drop down gate. He writes poetry and has a fine hand for drawing. There's more but to reveal it would take many of the laughs away that set you up for the inevitable, and very effective plot twist, which begins with Alice discovering just how obsessed Jerry really is with her.

A great thriller turns the tables so that you don't know black from white, good from bad. A good thriller sets up the cards and clears 'em away too fast. Conspiracy Theory falls between the two. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd write that the acting was too good, but I have. Let's rather say that the performances call attention to the very few holes in the story, and these go by pretty quickly. Donner and Gibson introduce so many pleasant chuckles into the piece that, when danger rears it's ugly head, it ain't that damn scary. No one wriggled in their seats, nor did anyone cheer when the ultimate resolution was revealed.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Conspiracy Theory, he would have paid . . .


It's all Gibson's show.

Just in case: the "MacGuffin" was a Hitchcock creation for a plot device which appears to have great importance as a film starts, and turns out to be irrelevant. In this flick, it turns into a great gag.

Click to buy films starring Mel Gibson
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