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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Retro Review: Conspiracy Theory (1997)

Conspiracy Theory
Cast: Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart
Genre: Political Action Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $136 million

Plot: A man obsessed with conspiracy theories becomes a target after one of his theories turns out to be true. Unfortunately, in order to save himself, he has to figure out which theory it is

'The Film's Theory Is Not Always Quite Made Clear'

Conspiracy Theory was producer Joel Silver's second movie of 1997, following on from the U.S remake of Fathers' Day directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. Mel Gibson, who made a cameo in the comedy, here stars alongside Julia Roberts (who co-starred with Williams and Dustin Hoffman in 1991's Hook) and with Lethal Weapon's Richard Donner, its tone is eerily reminiscent of the second and third Lethal Weapon movies, which, in turn, takes away from the intrigue, tension and drama it could have done more with. 

Mel, who was reported to have been paid $20 million, plays Jerry Fletcher who drives a taxi and is a bit of a motormouth who rarely shuts up. He also has a deep fascination towards conspiracy theories and who believes the world events are triggered by government conspiracies.

The actor who plays Antonio looks awfully a lot like Bob Mortimer of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer of the British '90s TV show, Shooting Stars.

Julia Roberts's Alice Sutton is a Justice Department Investigator/FBI agent, who at first isn't too relieved at seeing Jerry until he rescues her from a few muggers. After Jerry is attacked and tortured by a bad guy, who turns out to be a psychologist with the CIA, both he and Alice find themselves in danger. Jerry is a wanted man and the only person he trusts is a woman he just barely met in Alice. & later on, (& what a surprise - not) they fall in love with each other. Which is the main reason this subplot exists for Richard Donner to cast Julia Roberts opposite Mel Gibson, really. 

Gibson's character, New York cabbie, Jerry is a bit of a fruitcake as he prattles on and on and whilst a character of his type could be seen as sympathetic and empathetic, here, he is mainly a creeper and the tone is so over the place, what ought to have been a serious thriller that tries to engage and pose questions, turns out to be more of a Mel Gibson vehicle that tries to play on his strengths, yet it doesn't do quite so well to accommodate Roberts's also. Compared to Julia Roberts's other conspiracy based thriller, The Pelican Brief, Conspiracy Theory is played for entertainment and star value - yet the narrative just isn't as strong and engrossing and as a film, its cat & mouse formula is executed with little imagination and attention. Roberts here is.... okay, and I like her character, Alice, who gets better as the film goes on, but it appears that with the majority of her characters, excluding in Secret In The Eyes, they involve her being rescued by a man, and here she panders to a loony guy; with her partnership with Mel Gibson, that believability in their onscreen partnership didn't quite come through and Jerry and Alice's romance was a tad creepy. It felt to me that Gibson's Jerry overplays his role so much in parts of this film. 

That, and as well as being ridiculously overlong at 2 hrs +, Conspiracy Theory is average at most. 

Not enough action and genuine thrills and intensity, after an intriguing opening hour, Richard Donner makes the mistake of having Mel Gibson portray Jerry's psychotic craziness as something of a joke and he can come across as too over-the-top. Instead of skating and playing with the idea that he might be crazy and the twists are more silly and meh, rather than shocking. If it stripped away 45 mins, added more action and suspense (the chase in the park with Alice was good) and perhaps (& ideally) done away with the romance part, I could live with that much more. It's unfortunate that Conspiracy Theory is too ordinary, surprisingly too lightweight and by-the-numbers and in-between the performances, the villain played by Patrick Stewart is rather weak and the rest of the story is so saturated that, despite the little moments, later on, it lacks variety and depth and fails to hold up right until the end. A few of the plot twists make sense, but otherwise, they are not made distinctly clear. Richard Donner's direction is usually stylish, sleek at times, fun and lightweight, but here, it was mostly bland that doesn't take enough risks and make sweeping and bold moves. 


Pros +

- The ending

- Julia Roberts impresses and surprises here

- Last half was entertaining and very good


- The tone is off bounds & too lightweight

- Gibson overplays his role at times

- The central romance wasn't necessary or believable

- Not enough action and thrills & a couple of lull scenes

Final Verdict: 

In what would have otherwise been a mediocre and woeful film is elevated by the inclusions and the charisma of Mel Gibson and moreso for me and surprisingly Julia Roberts, who does notably well with the material. And the climax at the end, whilst some people didn't enjoy it, I, on the other hand, did. 

Conspiracy Theory is occasionally entertaining and manages to be serviceable, yet as the complete action espionage thriller package, it's not as thoroughly satisfying and overwhelming, speaking as a whole.


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