review for Conspiracy Theory on AllMovie

Conspiracy Theory (1997)
by Karl Williams review

There is a riveting motion picture buried somewhere deep inside the addled heart of this thriller from the terrible twosome of star Mel Gibson and director Richard Donner. Whenever the pair matches up on a project, a sense of dread quickly befalls those who loathe the profoundly annoying, artificially improvisational, falsely zany style of their cinematic collaborations. Enough of the elements are here -- an interesting story, compelling characters, a terrific villain well played by Patrick Stewart, a solid female lead in Julia Roberts -- that one can deduce the original script from screenwriter Brian Helgeland probably crackled with suspense. Although toned down compared to some of their other films, the Donner/Gibson touch is present here, and their inability to treat the material seriously dilutes the experience. Gibson plays his brain-damaged cab driver with such exhausting, mock-manic energy that what he seems to need is not therapy but a Ritalin and Prozac cocktail. He's more irksome than sympathetic. The film calls out not for the winking irony of Donner, which always seems to say, "Yeah, we are aware it's all a big goof; we're just putting on a show," but for the unflinching sobriety Bryan Singer brought to X-Men (2000). That project, literally based on a comic book, handled its source material with the thoughtfulness of Shakespeare; Conspiracy Theory would have benefited mightily from a similar attitude.