For Your Misinformation
Conspiracy Theory is Sharp Enough to Make You Paranoid
(This review originally appeared in the August 7-13, 1997 Long Island Voice.)
Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Youre not paranoid if they really are out to get you. At least, thats the idea behind Conspiracy Theory. Mel Gibson stars as Jerry, a typical, talkative, New York City cab driver who has a million theories. Hes obsessed with tying together seemingly random acts like earthquakes, space shuttle launchings and the presidents safety.
Jerrys also obsessed with Alice (Julia Roberts) Sutton, an attorney for the Justice Department. Alice, in turn, is obsessed with the murder of her father, a federal judge. That, and the fact that he saved her from a mugging, makes Alice a little patient with Jerry, though she gives his theories no credence.
The dominoes start to fall when it turns out one of Jerrys theories is right. The problem is, he doesnt know which one. All he does know is that he has flashes of memories that are terrifying and totally disorienting. How does someone who everyone considers a certifiable nut convince people hes right?
Being kidnapped and interrogated by the smoothly sinister Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart) helps. In a harrowing sequence, Jonas tries to probe Jerrys memory none too gently, but Jerry, using ingenuity a fox would envy, manages to escape. The wounds sustained while escaping, the mysterious death of Jerrys hospital roommate and an alphabet full of government agents who show up for Jerrys case makes Alice wonder if there might not be something to the cab drivers ramblings.
But Conspiracy Theory isnt a stereotypical buddy movie or romance under duress. While Alice helps Jerry at times, at other points she discovers things that make her doubt him, particularly when part of the conspiracy involves her fathers murder. If nothing else, seeing his apartment, complete with locked refrigerator and padlocked food canisters inside would make her think hes a lunatic.
As Jerry was written with Mel Gibson in mind, its no surprise that hes perfect as the paranoid, gentle, sincere nut. But Jerry is not Martin Riggs as a cabbie. Riggs had problems, but he could function. Jerry is seriously damaged.
Roberts brings the perfect blend of competence, intelligence and obsession to the role of Alice. The film hinges on her relationship with Jerry and a false note would wreck it. As with most films by director Richard Donner, the characters are not superhuman but rather people who use their wits in desperate situations.
Donner has made some of my favorite action films, including the Lethal Weapon series, because theyre exciting and smart. Conspiracy Theory isnt perfect. For instance, a tracking method used by the bad guys involving an infamous link between assassins is very clever, yet theres also an inherent flaw when you consider how many stores in Manhattan arent computerized. Unlike many action films, the flaws arent gaping logic holes. Instead theyre like jigsaw puzzle pieces that look like they should fit, but dont quite.
A Warner Bros. Release. Directed by Richard Donner.
Accompanying photographs © 1997 Warner Bros.