A Web of Conspiracies By Mike White. Deranged "conspiracy nut," Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) uses his job driving a cab to continually pontificate about his absurd ideas...

Deranged "conspiracy nut," Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) uses his job driving a cab to continually pontificate about his absurd ideas. At the end of his shift he sneaks back to his apartment; a veritable fortress overflowing with books and newspaper clippings that fuel Jerry’s mania and provide him with content for his underground newsletter, "Conspiracy Theory." Eventually Jerry’s crackpot ideas hit too close to the mark, making him the target of the collusive government agencies that Jerry rails against.

That premise probably bagged a couple of laughs at the pitch meeting but it and Gibson’s hyperactive performance quickly wear thin in Richard Donner’s Conspiracy Theory. Gibson’s Fletcher displays all the mania and bad puns of his role of Martin Riggs in Donner’s Lethal Weapon. However, his rampant id is without the superego of Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh. Something tells me that Donner likes Gibson to adlib on the set. For example, at one point Gibson, in his incessant monologue, comments on his hospital food muttering, "This is a grueling experience." It sure is, buddy, it sure is.

Conspiracy Theory’s plot gives new meaning to the word "convoluted." Perhaps writer Brian Helgeland was attempting to layer the story, making it appear as multifaceted as some of the conspiratorial tales surrounding events like the "crash" of TWA 800†, the assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, and the assassination of JFK. However, what Helgeland fails to realize is that every good conspiracy theory contains not just a series of coincidences but a level of plausibility as well. Neither the characters nor the story of Conspiracy Theory has any amount of depth. The inclusion of Jerry’s obsession with J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is never explained and seems to stem more from a reference in Six Degrees of Separation to any sort of research Helgeland might have done. The film often feels like a mish-mash of superior works like A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, The Parallax View, Chinatown and, most of all, The Manchurian Candidate.

Despite the over-complicated plot, stilted love story, and bad acting, the film might have had the best marketing campaign of 1997. For months before the film came out I received a series of intriguing, enigmatic postcards with some of Jerry’s theories on them, each bearing the phrase "and I know more." However, evidence suggests that Conspiracy Theory traveled an arduous road before its release.

The September ’97 issue of The Web Magazine featured a write-up of "Hollywood’s Obsession with the Dark Side of Cyberspace" by Mikki Halpin, author of The Geek Handbook: Userguide and Documentation for Geeks and Those Who Love Them. In her article, Haplin attempted to trace the evolution of the computer’s role in films. She covered films like War Games, Hackers, Sneakers and The Net, but the oddest part of the article was its focus on Conspiracy Theory.

This seemed quite an unusual tactic, as, apart from a brief mention of newsgroups, Conspiracy Theory never referenced the World Wide Web. Rather, Jerry appears to be a technophobe, putting out his newsletter with a typewriter and photocopier—I’m surprised he didn’t use a mimeograph machine. Gone are the scenes of Jerry surfing the net and chronicling his harrowing adventures on his website as reported in Halpin’s piece ("The web is integral to the film").

Halpin was never made privy to a more web-centric cut of the film. Instead, two Warner Brothers representatives misinformed her about the details of the Donner film. Was Haplin herself the victim of a conspiracy? Why would a studio misrepresent its work to such a degree?

It leads me to believe that either the contacts to which Mikki spoke were unaware of the nuances of the film or, more likely, it was subject to some last-minute, heavy-duty re-cuts. Judging by the patchwork feel and poor pacing of the movie, I would tend to believe that it was the latter scenario.

Halpin was not the only one left in the dark about last minute editing—web designer Dara Weiss is quoted in the article as saying, "filmmakers were more involved in the site than other filmmakers I’ve worked with...because the Internet has a role in the film." Weiss’ site, though outdated, is definitely worth a look. It has a very consistent feel and good design. The best feature, though, has to be the links to other conspiracy-related sites.

At this point I was going to segue into a review of The Web Magazine and profess that of all the Internet-related magazines on the market that it, while not a frequent purchase, was a good read with a slick layout and fun articles. The aforementioned issue also had a write-up about Tom and Ray Magliozzi from National Public Radio’s Cartalk—a weekend staple for me.

To keep current I went over to my local bookstore and searched the magazine racks for the latest issue of The Web Magazine. But as I scanned the computer magazine section, I was unable to uncover a single issue. Disheartened I went back to work and tried to get on the magazine’s website. No luck. Was the goal of Warner Brothers’ campaign of misinformation to destroy the credibility and profitability of The Web Magazine?

A second trip to the bookstore lead me to believe that there was no such deep-seated conspiracy against one web title. Looking at the computer magazine section I realized that there was a major shortage of web-based magazines. Not only was The Web Magazine missing but so were most of the other titles. Over the last year they had slipped quietly away—gone with neither a bang nor a whimper.

A former employee of The Web Magazine informed me that their mag had been shutdown by parent company International Data Group in February of ’98, catching the staff by surprise. "Surviving magazines (like Yahoo Internet Life) are hopelessly white-bread for my taste. The most fun of the web mags was Internet Underground, which shut down even before we did. From what I can see, publishers have abandoned magazines about Web content in favor of magazines about e-commerce."

Word on the street is that Entertainment Weekly will be expanding their multi-media section and producing a full-fledged magazine dealing with the Internet sometime in ’99. But don’t believe everything you read! † Could the idea of Flight 800 being shot down have been a unique public relations move on the part of TWA in order to divert attention away from their unsafe planes and, instead, cash in on militia/domestic terrorism hysteria, questioning the security of U.S. airspace?

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