Review: Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Julia Roberts, Mel Gibson, Patrick Stewart. Written by Brian Helgeland. Directed by Richard Donner.

I expected Conspiracy Theory to suck, but it was surprisingly entertaining and not a bad flick. Mel Gibson is Jerry, a cab driver in New York, and the publisher of a newsletter called Conspiracy Theory. He has all kinds of unprovable ideas about black helicopters, secret governments, and the Grateful Dead as intelligence agents. Turns out he might be right about at least one thing (he doesn’t know what) because some guy named Jonas, played by Patrick Stewart, wants to know what else Jerry knows.

Jerry seeks the help of Julia Roberts’s Alice, an FBI lawyer on whom he has a crush. He once saved her from a mugging, so she’s willing to give him a few minutes and hear his story, only his story doesn’t make sense. Now it’s apparently Jerry and Alice against the FBI, the CIA, and other nameless underground agencies.The setup is quite good. Gibson swings between one-step-away-from-unhinged and sad puppy dog, and manages to go through all kinds of fight and escape sequences without going into macho mode. Roberts does what she usually does, playing the smart, cool, independent woman carrying around vulnerability and sadness she only shows to a select few. It’s a really good combination and I would have liked to see it in a film with a better second half.

I want Julia Roberts to kiss people. It’s one of the reasons I watch a Julia Roberts movie. However, I didn’t want her to do it in this one, yet the film insists on setting up a romance that should never be. I’m not even sure (giving the writer the benefit of the doubt) Alice even has those kinds of feelings for Jerry, but even the stuff she gives him is just a bit too much. There’s an “I love you too” that’s maybe the worst, least believable “I love you too” I’ve ever seen. On screen, that is. I’ve received a few that were worse, at least in retrospect, and I may have utterered a few with less credibility.

The movie sorta devolves into the cat-and-mice action picture I expected, but it doesn’t suck because I like the characters. The film plays with darkness and cynicism in snack-sized bites I wouldn’t have minded in more substantial servings, although I understand why it doesn’t go there, and the strength of the performances is enough to keep me intrigued.


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