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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Conspiracy Theory (review)

The Problem with Conspiracy Theories

[Thar be spoilers here.]

Conspiracy theorists intrigue me. I can sort of understand the compulsion to connect all the messes the world is in and find one source of the misery, one target for blame. Who can resist the appeal of this:

“President Rodham’s Coup d’Etat — The Monica Lewinsky matter is a well-planned coup d’etat. Bill Clinton is still the President, but Hillary Rodham and the Feminist Intelligence Network is giving the orders.”

Or my favorite:

“Hulk Hogan: Servant of the New World Order — Through carefully scripted ‘wrestling contests,’ overseen by cunning experts in psychology and mass media marketing, the youth of America are led into acceptance and even enthusiasm for a ‘New World Order.’ But that NWO plan wants to enslave them!”

[These from Conspiracy Nation.]

Conspiracy Theory (starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart) wants to cash in on the current conspiracy chic. Jerry Fletcher (Gibson) is a New York cab driver with some bizarre ideas about the way the world works (betcha didn’t know the Vietnam War was fought on a bet between Howard Hughes and Aristotle Onassis?). Alice Sutton (Roberts) is the Justice Department lawyer to whom Jerry tries to pass all his acquired secrets (he’s also kinda obsessed with her). Dr. Jonas (Stewart) is the evil guy through whom all will be revealed.

The problem with Conspiracy Theory is the problem with conspiracy theories: both rely on outlandish coincidences that actually turn out to be insidiously connected; both rely on the victims of the conspiracy acting stupid; both posit that practically anyone not a victim is a conspirator; both depend on mobs of bystanders ignoring the outrageous goings-on. For example, in the film, a silent black helicopter hovers over New York City’s Union Square — a busy place any time of day — and a squad of mysterious soldiers rappel down from the chopper into the crowds on the streets without causing a stir. Now, in the real NYC, this would not pass unnoticed. In fact, the next morning’s New York Post would probably scream:

Real-Life X-File?
Stealth Chopper Buzzes Union Sq.
NYPD Says “Not One of Ours”
Rudy to Feds: ‘Fess Up

Of course, there is such a thing as the willing suspension of disbelief. But the other problem with Conspiracy Theory is that it was produced in that mass-market meat grinder called Hollywood. Decent stories go in — half-baked, simplistic garbage comes out. I suspect the original script for Conspiracy Theory was probably darker and a lot more intense. And I bet it was full of characters that grabbed you and made you forget the loopholes in the plot.

But some smarmy L.A. producer got his grubby hands on it and said, “We need a love interest — let’s stick Julia Roberts in here! And Jesus H. Christ, you can’t kill Mel Gibson! The hero must survive!” The result is a movie that starts out interesting and quirky and ends up happily ever after.

As Alfred E. Neumann would say, “Bleecch!”


viewed at home on a small screen

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