Friday, October 12, 2012

The Shadow Knows...Nothing: "Shadow Conspiracy" (1997)

Very good action director Cosmatos teams with a big name cast to create one of the silliest political conspiracy films ever made.

Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen) is a hotshot special assistant to the U.S. President (Sam Waterston). He wheels, he deals, he charms, and everybody in Washington, D.C. loves him so much you expect adoption proceedings to begin. His boss, Chief of Staff Conrad (Donald Sutherland) speaks of him with both eyes twinkling, while gruff Vice President Saxon (Ben Gazzara) is put off by his shenanigans.

One of Bobby's old professors escapes from a house where almost half a dozen of his colleagues are killed by one man (Stephen Lang). The professor has information for Bobby about a shadow government operating in the White House, but is killed by the unnamed agent before he can offer up any more help. Bishop is soon on the run, being helped by spunky reporter Amanda (a terribly miscast Linda Hamilton). Everywhere Bobby and Amanda run, the killer is close behind, until the film reveals the true members behind the conspiracy (about an hour after the viewer has figured it out). The finale is inevitable.

On the surface, this had the makings of a first class political suspenser along the lines of "The Manchurian Candidate" or "Seven Days in May." In addition to the stellar cast mentioned above, check out some more names from the end credits: Charles Cioffi, Nicholas Turturro, Theodore Bikel, Gore Vidal, Paul Gleason, and Terry O'Quinn. If their names are not familiar, their faces certainly would be if you had the sad chance to view this film. My point is that this kind of experienced cast (and writer Vidal) should have known better!

The script is nothing more than Hamilton and Sheen running around Washington, D.C. locations while silent Lang shoots at them with more ammo than Rambo's gun cabinet, and consistently misses. Incredible holes fill the screenplay: ace reporter Amanda's first question at the White House press conference is asked as she struts down the press corps room aisle like she was being shown to her seat at a Mets game. Even though she is a top reporter at a big D.C. paper, she has no idea the professor and others have been killed in a giant gun fight in the middle of Georgetown. At one point, Bobby and Amanda sneak into the White House, where apparently the Chief of Staff feels no need to lock his office doors. Bobby almost has the entire conspiracy recorded on tape...until he comically drops said audiotape in the river! Finally, the finale involves the assassination of a major political figure using a remote control toy.

Cosmatos shoots a crisp picture here, although he goes overboard on closeups and matte shots (where one subject is close to the camera, there is some blurriness in the middle of the screen, and the background subject is also in focus). The music sounds a lot like the incidental score to "Star Wars." In the face of all this goofiness, the cast simply becomes lost. Sheen enters every scene completely out of breath. Gazzara is so grizzled as the vice-president, I cannot imagine him on any political ticket (he makes Dick Cheney look like a kitten). Waterston is vacuous as the president, why Bobby chooses to remain blindly loyal to him is beyond me. Stephen Lang is usually so much better than given credit for, but here he can do nothing with a bad role.

"Shadow Conspiracy" is so serious in its intentions, it turns into an unintentional comedy. The cast and crew should have known better, but now you do. Let's impeach this film. (*) out of five stars.