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Thrilling ‘Theory’ Sometimes They Are Out To Get The Paranoid Conspiracy Nuts

They say a paranoiac is someone who has an idea of what’s really going on. Mel Gibson should know in the new thriller “Conspiracy Theory,” a film that succeeds largely by not letting you in on the secret.

In fact, when it’s over, you still might not be sure just what the heck went on.

Gibson, in his most over-the-top performance since the first “Lethal Weapon,” plays Jerry Fletcher, a New York cabby who regales his fares with tales about how the government, the Catholic church, Hollywood and maybe even your mother are all up to something.

Jerry also has a major thing for Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), a Justice Department attorney who tolerates him because he rescued her from a mugging six months earlier. Although Alice isn’t paranoid, she has reason to be, stemming from her dissatisfaction with the murder investigation of her father.

Jerry’s visits to Alice’s office suggest that he’s a major loon, but his ravings are given some validity when some goons grab him off the street. A mysterious doctor (Patrick Stewart, in evil-genius mode) interrogates him in a scene that owes much to the famous “Is it safe?” scene from Marathon Man.

We’ve seen paranoid thrillers before “(The Manchurian Candidate),” and even romantic-comedy-paranoid thrillers “(North by Northwest),” but seldom have they been as loopy as this.

Gibson is largely responsible for the movie’s goofier qualities; his twitching, stammering, eye-bulging performance will inspire laughter, sympathy or irritation. Which, presumably, is exactly what it’s intended to do.

Roberts makes a surprisingly good fit here. Her straightforward, commonsense character provides a nice balance to Gibson’s wacky antics, and she has more chemistry with him than she did with Dermot Mulroney in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

However, you might find yourself wondering how someone like Roberts - who looks like she could really use a good chicken-fried-steak dinner - could take out guys twice her size during a rescue attempt.

For all its wildness, “Conspiracy Theory” is a comparatively tame entry from director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver. Not that there aren’t explosions and crashing cars; there are just fewer than you’d expect from this team.

As to plausibility - this movie doesn’t care about plausibility. All it wants is for you to buckle your seat belt and go along for the ride.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “CONSPIRACY THEORY” Location: Lincoln Heights, Lyons, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls Credits: Directed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart Running time: 2:05 Rating: R

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Conspiracy Theory:”

David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: Primarily an intense, crowd-pleasing thriller but also a quirky romance that offers Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts many prime opportunities to enrich their offbeat characterizations, “Conspiracy Theory” should pull off a box office coup in its opening weekend and enjoy a spectacular run.

Rod Dreher/Sun-Sentinel, South Florida: …a lackluster thriller from director Richard Donner, in which Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts are paired - and given very little of interest to do. In fact, Gibson’s character, a paranoid goober named Jerry Fletcher, is so spastically annoying that the film actually improves when he’s out of the picture for a scene or two.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “CONSPIRACY THEORY” Location: Lincoln Heights, Lyons, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls Credits: Directed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart Running time: 2:05 Rating: R

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Conspiracy Theory:”

David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: Primarily an intense, crowd-pleasing thriller but also a quirky romance that offers Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts many prime opportunities to enrich their offbeat characterizations, “Conspiracy Theory” should pull off a box office coup in its opening weekend and enjoy a spectacular run.

Rod Dreher/Sun-Sentinel, South Florida: …a lackluster thriller from director Richard Donner, in which Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts are paired - and given very little of interest to do. In fact, Gibson’s character, a paranoid goober named Jerry Fletcher, is so spastically annoying that the film actually improves when he’s out of the picture for a scene or two.



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