Richard Donner's Conspiracy Theory reunites him with Mel Gibson in the middle of the Lethal Weapon franchise, but fails to secure the same place in pop culture as that beloved series.
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart
The plot of this one concerns Jerry Fletcher (Gibson), a New York City cabbie who pumps out a newsletter appropriately titled "Conspiracy Theory." Jerry is obsessed with Alice Sutton (Roberts), a woman who supposedly works for some sort of law firm, private investigation firm, or similar entity - although she never actually does any work. She's too busy digging into the case of her recently-murdered father which has yet to be solved. Jerry forms a bizarre relationship with her over the course of a few months and all of a sudden - away we go! Jerry is kidnapped and tortured by some shady dudes. When he escapes and goes to Alice, she reluctantly does her best to misguide government psychologist Mr. Jonas (Stewart) to buy Jerry some time to figure out what's going on.
The film is decent enough, I suppose. Julia Roberts does a fine job as the tolerant object of Gibson's affection. Gibson himself is spastic, twitchy, and paranoid, but doesn't seem to bring the level of menace to Jerry that the character demands. This presents problems in certain scenes, like the one where he holds a police officer hostage; Mel is crazy but not Taxi Driver crazy. He's not going to shoot the guy, and we all know it. If there was the actual threat that he might pull the trigger, I think the whole movie might have been a little more effective. Patrick Stewart was pretty terrible as the mysterious Jonas, an over-the-top caracature of a villain who has no depth to him whatsoever.
The score was formulaic and boring, not really complementing the visuals in a way that enhanced the experience. The music in this film was good for one thing and one thing only - to get Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" stuck in your head for days on end.
The ending seemed really thrown together, as if it was screened for some producers who cringed at an unhappy ending and demanded a rewrite. I can imagine the potential original ending, and I would have preferred it to what we actually saw. Events collided in such an unbelievable manner in the theatrical ending that the film blew any sense of authenticity it had going for it. Gibson sputters up all kinds of information in one sitting that he's been trying to remember for the entire movie, and it just seemed disingenuous.
In doing some research for this review, I stumbled across some information that highly influences my opinion of this movie. Project MK-ULTRA, the mind-control program that Jonas practiced on Jerry, was apparently a real thing, and there have been suggestions that the CIA's announcement of the project's abandonment is a cover! Now that I know this stuff actually happened, I view this movie with a little more credibility than I used to. Not that this addition alone makes the whole film realistic - I mean, a winch hooked to the back of a FBI vehicle without them noticing? - but this touch of reality gives Conspiracy Theory a little boost in my eyes.
Fans of Mel and Julia will certainly be pleased with what they see here. This film works as a good blockbuster thriller, complete with the humor and love story that you would expect. If you're looking for something a little more original and twisted, I'd recommend David Fincher's The Game. Until next time...