Doesn't CNN usually run its special reports --as "CNN Presents" -- on subjects like natural disasters or revolutions? Last night it ran one on Mel Gibson. Did any newspaper review it? Did anybody watch it?

I tuned in for the last ten or fifteen minutes; let me know if I missed anything.

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I caught Jodie Foster, a stand-up gal, speaking up for Gibson as a fellow artist and a friend. She said she cast him in "The Beaver" because she knew he would play the central character with depth and authenticity. The CNN documentary ended on a "wait and see" note about "The Beaver." Had CNN postponed this special for a month? "The Beaver" opened three weeks ago. It received mixed reviews and has done almost zero business.

When "The Beaver" first screened, advance reviewers said it was the perfect comeback role for Gibson because it framed a mentally unbalanced man in a sympathetic light. But I always wondered whether even curiosity-seekers would want to watch Gibson play a depressed man who expresses himself through a beaver hand-puppet. I haven't gone to see the film myself.

In the Gibson performances I've most enjoyed, he comes up with startling mixtures of farcical invention, dramatic dash and romantic fervor . My favorite has dropped into obscurity, but I recommend it to anyone who needs to be reminded of why Gibson was a huge star for a quarter-century. As Jerry Fletcher, the hero of Richard Donner's skillful 1997 thriller, "Conspiracy Theory," Gibson does a comic, glamorous variation on Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."

Like Travis, he's a New York cabbie obsessed with protecting his favorite female from the world's malignancies. But she's nothing like the child prostitute Foster played in "Taxi Driver" -- Jerry's gal is a Justice Department attorney played by Julia Roberts. And unlike Travis, Jerry snaps when he achieves sanity. Gibson in the late '90s was almost too willing to break the stolid mold of action superstars; at his least inspired (say, in "Ransom") he came off as a poster boy for bipolar disorder. But he's at his best in "Conspiracy Theory."

As Jerry he cuts a pop-Byronic figure -- he broods close to the surface, his motor-mouth running constantly, his facial twitches signaling the shorted-out connections in his brain. Even when "Conspiracy Theory" is jammed or rushed or overly jittery, Gibson's command of Jerry's fractured psyche, freak perceptions, and ardor gives the picture blue-eyed soul.

We'd have a better shot of judging whether Gibson's screen career is kaput if he'd appear again in a film like "Conspiracy Theory," which showcases his unique acting talents and satisfies an audience.

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