A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Conspiracy Theory'' 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.
I can almost guess how this happened. The original screenplay by Brian Helgeland must have been strange and wonderful. It told the story of a New York cabby who combines everything he hears into one grand unified conspiracy theory. Most of the time he's wacko. Sometimes, like a stopped clock, he's on the money. ("I was right!'' he says at one point. "But what was I right about?'') This screenplay no doubt attracted widespread attention in Hollywood because of its originality and brilliance. Then it was packaged with major stars (Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts) and an A-list director (Richard Donner of "Lethal Weapon"). The movie could essentially have been filmed for a few million dollars, but not with talent like that, so it turned into a megaproduction, and was lost.
Almost immediately (I'm still weaving my fantasy here) some industry genius decreed that Gibson and Roberts had to fall in love in the movie, "because the audience will want to see that.'' Oh yeah? Not if it involves such torturous contrivances that whole shards of the plot are torn off and sent flying like rubber off of truck tires. The same genius, or his clone, then decreed that since there was the money for bloated action sequences, of course there had to be some.
Very few action sequences work. Most of them bring movies to a lurching halt. "Conspiracy Theory'' is never more interesting that when Gibson is spinning his bizarre theories, and never more boring then when secret agents are rappelling down ropes from helicopters hovering over New York streets. There have been so many action sequences in so many movies that we have lost the capacity for surprise; unless they work as part of the plot, our eyes glaze over, because we know the actors have gone out for lunch and we are looking at stunt men supervised by the second unit.