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They're Not Out to Get You Just Because You're Paranoid

Conspiracy Theory directed by Richard Donner starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts Patrick Stewart at Sony Fresh Pond, Cheri

By Christiana Briggs

You always knew New York City was full of crazy people, bizarre incidents in dark alleyways and scary taxi rides, but that was before you climbed into a cab with Jerry. Wild-eyed and handsomely grungy, he scares his passengers with his crazy talk and even crazier driving and pulls up to famous people not to let them in his cab but to take pictures of them through his window. But this taxi driver has deep blue eyes and drop-dead good looks, and happens to be played by MelGibson.

"Conspiracy Theory" opens, appropriately, with Jerry spouting tales of Nobel prize-winning scientists having their frozen sperm stored beneath the ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center, NASA conspiring to kill the President by conducting sonic tests in orbit resulting in major earthquakes along fault lines (the President was going to be in Turkey along a fault line) and perhaps funniest of all, the government putting the metal strip in the new $100 bills as a tracking device; Jerry generously warns a female passenger that if she has any of the bills to get rid of them immediately.

Though the plot gets quite convoluted, the basic premise of the movie is simple: the paranoid cab driver, Jerry, finally hits home with one of the many conspiracy theories he publishes in his newsletter titled, of course, "Conspiracy Theory." He is being trailed by an insidiously evil, Harvard-grad CIA psychologist, Dr. Jonas (Patrick Stewart), who wants to find Jerry and force him to admit what he doesn't exactly know he knows.

Jerry has only one ally: Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), a justice department attorney he's infatuated with--even going to the lengths of parking his cab outside her apartment and watching her exercise every evening--who receives his wild tales calmly and begins to believe in him. As the plot thickens, Jerry is captured by "them" (you know, those "men in black" working for all those agencies with acronyms), drugged, plunged in water and tortured by having his eyelids taped so his eyes will stay open while he hallucinates scenes that could compete with the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." He manages to escape, gets help from Alice, and eventually reveals the truth of his past that connects his life with hers.

The movie is filled with one thrilling chase scene after another, from apartments to hospitals to bridges to darkened theaters and finally to the dilapidated closed wing of a mental hospital. Jerry's apartment is one of the most intriguing settings in the movie. It is furnished with file cabinets, at least a dozen copies of Catcher in the Ryethat were found in the possession of at least two famous assassins, a poster of John Lennon and magazine clippings and sketches covering every inch of wall space. His refrigerator is filled with locked metal canisters of coffee and tapioca, whose combinations he conveniently forgets when Alice visits his lair. He keeps a toothpick tucked at the top of his door when he goes out and a beer bottle balanced on his doorknob when he is inside so he can tell if anyone is in or trying to get into his apartment.

In addition to a great plot, the actors make the characters convincing. The beautiful Roberts, as the compassionate attorney, shows real and believable sympathy toward Jerry, even if she always looks a little too perfectly groomed and styled: Whether she's climbing through trap doors or running through fields to escape bullets and missiles, she is never flushed or unkempt.

Gibson displays his impressive ability to act the role of a completely paranoid man; his jumpiness and fidgety behavior are both comical and discomforting. He never shuts up throughout the entire movie (except when he's staring into Alice's eyes), which makes you want to slam your hands on his shoulders and shake him into speaking coherent sentences. Patrick Stewart brings a fine creepiness to the role of the shrewd, vicious Dr. Jonas. He's a villain you love to hate, especially when Jerry finally gives him his comeuppance.

For all the silliness of most of Jerry's theories and the absurdity of black helicopters dropping men like flies into the middle of New York intersections, "Conspiracy Theory" is ultimately about searching for truth. Alice's heart, torn between the conflicting reports of Jonas and Jerry, eventually leads her to the truth. As a character remarks of his veritasring--the truth will set you free.

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