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Conspiracy Theory (film)

Conspiracy Theory is a 1997 American action/paranoid thriller film directed by Richard Donner. The original screenplay by Brian Helgeland centers on an eccentric taxi driver who believes many world events are triggered by government conspiracies.

Plot synopsis

Jerry Fletcher is a mentally unstable New York City cab driver obsessed with conspiracy theories he likes to share with Justice Department attorney Alice Sutton, whom he once rescued from a mugging. He frequently bursts into her office to explain one of his latest theories. Alice is a competent professional with an anti-authoritarian streak who investigates her father's mysterious murder in her free time, despite her boss's wishes. She believes Jerry is a harmless eccentric and doesn't have the heart to throw him out or end his visits, although she doesn't think any of his theories hold weight.

When Jerry arrives at her office injured after being sadisticly tortured by doctors who kidnapped him, and tried to inject his greatest fears into his brain, it appears that one of his theories may have turned out to be fact. At the hospital, he begs Alice to switch his chart with the other patient in the room, as he is convinced he otherwise will be dead by morning. Despite her skepticism, Alice does so. The next morning, she arrives to discover the other patient has died of a heart attack and mysterious psychiatrist Dr. Jonas and numerous government agents have arrived to claim what they think is Jerry's body. Jerry escapes and goes on the run, with Alice's grudging help.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Jonas is involved in a CIA program called Project MKULTRA and has used it to program Jerry as a Manchurian Candidate-style assassin. Evidence slowly mounts linking him to the murder of Alice's father, leaving her to wonder who he really is as the two are pursued by SWAT teams and helicopters.

Production notes

Early in the film, Jerry Fletcher expounds on a number of his theories to a succession of taxi passengers. On one of the featurettes included on the DVD release of the film, director Richard Donner reveals these scenes were ad-libbed by Mel Gibson. The extras acting as passengers were not told what Gibson was going to say because Donner wanted their reactions to be as spontaneous and realistic as possible.

The film was shot on location in and around New York City. Sites included Times Square, Union Square, Greenwich Village, the Queensboro Bridge, Roosevelt Island, and the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.

The soundtrack includes "Just Maintain" by Xzibit, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by Sting, and two renditions of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", one by Frankie Valli and the other by Lauryn Hill.

The film grossed $76,118,990 in the US and $61 million in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $137,118,990 .

Principal cast

Critical reception

In her review in the New York Times, Janet Maslin said, "The only sneaky scheme at work here is the one that inflates a hollow plot to fill 2¼ hours while banishing skepticism with endless close-ups of big, beautiful movie-star eyes . . . Gibson, delivering one of the hearty, dynamic star turns that have made him the Peter Pan of the blockbuster set, makes Jerry much more boyishly likable than he deserves to be. The man who talks to himself and mails long, delusional screeds to strangers is not usually the dreamboat type . . . After the story enjoys creating real intrigue . . . it becomes tied up in knots. As with too many high-concept escapades, Conspiracy Theory tacks on a final half-hour of hasty explanations and mock-sincere emotion. The last scene is an outright insult to anyone who took the movie seriously at its start."

Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B- and commented, "Richard Donner . . . switches the movie from a really interesting, jittery, literate, and witty tone poem about justified contemporary paranoia (and the creatively unhinged dark side of New York City) to an overloaded, meandering iteration of a Lethal Weapon project that bears the not-so-secret stamp of audience testing and tinkering."

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle stated, "If I were paranoid I might suspect a conspiracy at work in the promoting of this movie - to suck in audiences with a catchy hook and then give them something much more clumsy and pedestrian . . . Conspiracy Theory can be enjoyed once one gives up hope of its becoming a thinking person's thriller and accepts it as just another diversion . . . When all else fails, there are still the stars to look at - Roberts, who actually manages to do some fine acting, and Gibson, whose likability must be a sturdy thing indeed."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed the film "cries out to be a small film - a quixotic little indie production where the daffy dialogue and weird characters could weave their coils of paranoia into great offbeat humor. Unfortunately, the parts of the movie that are truly good are buried beneath the deadening layers of thriller cliches and an unconvincing love story . . . If the movie had stayed at ground level - had been a real story about real people - it might have been a lot better, and funnier. All of the energy is in the basic material, and none of it is in a romance that is grafted on like an unneeded limb or superfluous organ."

In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers said, "The strong impact that Gibson makes as damaged goods is diluted by selling Jerry as cute and redeemable. Instead of a scalding brew of mirth and malice, served black, Donner settles up a tepid latte, decaf. What a shame - Conspiracy Theory could have been a contender."

Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "a sporadically amusing but listless thriller that wears its humorous, romantic and political components like mismatched articles of clothing . . . This is a film in which all things . . . are treated lightly, even glibly . . . One can readily sympathize with . . . the director's desire to inject the picture with as much humor as possible. But he tries to have it every which way in the end, and the conflicting moods and intentions never mesh comfortably."

On the film review website Rotten Tomatoes, the film only obtained 48% positive reviews among the 40 reviewers counted by the website in the "T-metric" system.


External links

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