Monday, May 27, 2013

Lame-brained and shallow Conspiracy Theory

Mel Gibson may very well be crazy which could be why he’s not especially convincing when playing a character too much like himself. He’s not required to act, but play himself, and as Richard Widmark once said, “The only one who can play himself is a baby.” A case in point is Jerry Fletcher, the paranoid cab driver of 1998’s Conspiracy Theory. We’re given a quick introduction to him in a montage that plays along with the opening titles in which one passenger after another is subjected to his rambling conspiracy theories:

“George Bush knew what he was saying when he said ‘New World Order’. . . he was a 33rd degree Mason, and as ex-director of the CIA, he knew that saying that would send conspiratologists everywhere spinning their wheels. They destroy their own credibility.”

“Ever wonder about those right-wing militia and survivalist types? They say they’re defending the country from U.N. troops. They’re yelling so loud, my theory is that this is a conspiracy: they are the U.N. troops! They’re in place!”

Based on his public statements, these theories represent Gibson’s own way of thinking. “As far as conspiracy theories go, I give some credence to them,” he said in explaining his attraction to Brian Helgeland’s script. “I have no doubt there’s a covert force at work somewhere, keeping things undercover and admitting only certain things to the public.” In a Playboy Interview three years earlier, he dismissed then President Clinton as a Rhodes scholar, and we know about those Rhodes scholars, don’t we? They’re groomed for public office where they do the bidding for powerful figures that remain behind-the-scenes. Gibson refused to elaborate further, saying he’d better shut up unless he wanted to be rubbed out.

As Fletcher, he’s a bundle of energy, manic but in a comical way as if he’s parodying the character instead of playing him. We’re meant to laugh at him, and regard his theories as crazy. But this is a Hollywood movie, so while most of Fletcher’s theories are meant to be regarded as a joke, one of them turns out to be true. Conspiracies in movies usually turn out to be true, and are very credibly portrayed with all the elaborate smokescreens that conspiracy theorists, like the fictional Jerry Fletcher and the real life Alex Jones, try to see through. But no matter how believably conspiracies are dramatized in such films as The 39 Steps, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Parallex View, any mention of conspiracy in real life is shot down with ridicule, as they must be. Success depends on silence.

The film acknowledges several conspiracies that are known to be true in including the MK-Ultra program in which the CIA conducted mind control experiments on hapless members of the public. Watergate was a conspiracy, and so was 9/11. If you want to know the truth, you’re more likely to find it at the movies than in the “news,” even if the movie is as lame-brained and shallow as Conspiracy Theory.

Julia Roberts is on hand as Gibson’s romantic interest. Yes, even a conspiracy obsessed blue collar guy who kills cockroaches in his apartment with a spatula must have a romantic interest in the movies, and not just any girl will do. Roberts plays some hotshot government lawyer who rides a horse. No, no, no, she doesn’t ride a horse while joining Gibson in the running around that the characters are required to do in a thriller. She rides a horse for fun.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks


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