Faced with a cauldron of zany possibilities, we can only surrender to the laughs in this wildly unpredictable film of time-release surprises.
Don't try to make sense of this one; just enjoy it. "Conspiracy Theory" is a wacky and entertaining movie that asks us, with a big wink of its eye, to suspend our need to label it. Just when we take it seriously, another comic zinger roars down from the screen. Just when we think it's a spoof, a whiff of reality unsettles us. Whatever else it is, it's an eccentric romp for its stars. Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts have rarely been better.
Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) is a paranoid cabdriver who sees conspiracy at every turn. For Jerry, the evidence is overwhelming: fluoride, George Bush, black helicopters, and "the festering scab that is the Vatican." Beneath a watch cap that neatly transforms Mel Gibson into a New York cabbie, Jerry fires a nonstop verbal barrage at his bewildered passengers. He stops muttering just long enough to take his worries, on a regular basis, to the Department of Justice, where Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts) is a staff lawyer. She is also the only person he trusts.
Jerry has managed to wrap even his apartment in paranoia: The locked refrigerator contains locked canisters of his food. His door groans under the weight of multiple deadbolts. In this relaxing atmosphere, he scans news stories for new evidence of plots for the newsletter he writes for the world's shortest subscriber list. Jerry is possessed.
As the chaos escalates with the arrival of the CIA, the FBI, the local police, a kidnapping, and a touch of "The Manchurian Candidate," Alice sees just enough truth here and there to keep her from dismissing Jerry as a nut. Together, they tear around a Manhattan skillfully filmed in its full dysfunctional infrastructure. This is clearly not an island fit for humans.
Faced with a cauldron of zany possibilities, we can only surrender to the laughs in this wildly unpredictable film of time-release surprises. But just as we are laughing, a sly reference to MKUltra, a CIA mind-control project, reminds us that paranoia often has one small tenacious root in reality. If Patrick Stewart's evil Jonas is overdrawn, he's uncomfortably familiar.
Mel Gibson, hyperventilating as he mutters, stays consistently in character, not an easy thing when the character is wrapped in frenzy. Julia Roberts, in one of her best performances, resists the temptation to overplay the material. Instead, she plays it straight, conveying skepticism, affection, and determination with the subtlest of expressions as she looks for truth in Jerry's lunacy. Together they lift this surprise- laden romantic comedy/thriller to a fine high.
By generating laughter at the most awful moments, they win the audience to a terrific spoof of the conspiracy theories that abound in our culture. This movie makes obsession hilarious and finds enough truth to scare us--just a little--through our laughter. It's a guy and his gal against the establishment with all the style of a great 40s detective story.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h+
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