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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

You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you. At least, that’s the idea behind Conspiracy Theory. Mel Gibson stars as Jerry, a typical, talkative, New York City cab driver who has a million theories. He’s obsessed with tying together seemingly random acts like earthquakes, space shuttle launchings and the president’s safety.

Jerry’s 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 Jerry’s theories is right. The problem is, he doesn’t 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 he’s right?

Being kidnapped and interrogated by the smoothly sinister Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart) helps. In a harrowing sequence, Jonas tries to probe Jerry’s memory none too gently, but Jerry, using ingenuity a fox would envy, manages to escape. The wounds sustained while escaping, the mysterious death of Jerry’s hospital roommate and an alphabet full of government agents who show up for Jerry’s case makes Alice wonder if there might not be something to the cab driver’s ramblings.

But Conspiracy Theory isn’t 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 father’s murder. If nothing else, seeing his apartment, complete with locked refrigerator and padlocked food canisters inside would make her think he’s a lunatic.

As Jerry was written with Mel Gibson in mind, it’s no surprise that he’s 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 they’re exciting and smart. Conspiracy Theory isn’t perfect. For instance, a tracking method used by the bad guys involving an infamous link between assassins is very clever, yet there’s also an inherent flaw when you consider how many stores in Manhattan aren’t computerized. Unlike many action films, the flaws aren’t gaping logic holes. Instead they’re like jigsaw puzzle pieces that look like they should fit, but don’t quite.

A Warner Bros. Release. Directed by Richard Donner.


Accompanying photographs  1997 Warner Bros.