Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? "The Shadow Conspiracy" don't. It don't know nothing.
An amazingly brain-dead political thriller set in Washington, D.C. (I doubt it knows what the "D.C." stands for), it follows a frenetic special assistant to the president -- jut-jawed, pea-brained Charlie Sheen -- as he tries to uncover the coup and assassination attempt set in motion by some very highly placed patriots. Meanwhile, an assassin in a white raincoat, who's evidently wandered in from an Italian Western, keeps trying to kill him.
If you can't guess who the ultimate bad guy is from the credits, you've got some serious remedial movie-going ahead. Worse -- far worse! -- I hereby forbid you to read me any more. Come back when you know a thing or two.
Sheen, who's first glimpsed shooting hoops on the Federal Hill courts before he's snatched back to the Potomac basin by presidential helicopter, is the current Washington Mr. Hot, a George Stephanopoulos without the wit, the smarts or the education; he has instant access to the president (Sam Waterston), can quash an unfriendly story, play hardball on the Hill and flick a quick quip at a newschick in the zip of an eye, all without cracking the shellac of mousse that holds his hair in its greasy place. He always gets a good table at Red Sage.
But when a think tank is almost completely wiped out by Mr. Raincoat (a completely wordless Stephen Lang), and its one survivor reaches Sheen a few seconds before being killed himself, Sheen is alerted to the dark forces arrayed against Our Nation's History and Tradition and Major League Baseball, Free Access to Pets, All the Lemonade You Can Drink for a Nickel and the Fifth of July, for what good would the Fourth be without a Fifth to follow? Framed for murder, he's hunted by the D.C. cops -- no prob, as they haven't caught anyone since Watergate, and only then when a security guard phoned it in -- but also the Secret Service and, far worse, CNN. His one ally is Washington Herald newshen Amanda Givens (poor Linda Hamilton).
The movie is just ridiculous. There's no law it doesn't break, including gravity, probability, common sense, physics, just desserts, unintended consequences and parking. The dialogue is a dense haiku of cliche as in "Well, let's stop the chatter and get going!" "What have we got to lose -- but our lives?" It's also full of naive faith in computers that can predict anything and see behind corners with a few deft keystrokes. But my favorite idiocy is a toy helicopter with real machine guns aboard and enough ammunition to overthrow the government of Paraguay. This baby just keeps on firing, blowing people out of their shoes while madman Lang leers and sweats at the remote control console.
What I hate about a movie like this is how it trashes everything it touches and makes me feel dirty for having shared my life with it. I need a shower. Ugh. And look at the poor cast: They must have washed for a month! Lang has been brilliant -- he once played Hamlet and Babe Ruth and won a Tony for his Broadway work in the role that Jack Nicholson played in "A Few Good Men" -- and he's reduced to cliche here, although he's the only interesting performer. Donald Sutherland? Great in "M*A*S*H" and "Klute," a joke here. Nicholas Turturro, so promising on "N.Y.P.D. Blue," a fool. Ben Gazzara, once mentioned in the same breath with Paul Newman? A complete idiot.
The horror, the horror.
'The Shadow Conspiracy'
L Starring Charlie Sheen, Linda Hamilton and Donald Sutherland
Directed by George Cosmatos
Released by Hollywood Pictures
Rating R (violence and profanity)
Sun score *
Pub Date: 1/31/97