Shadow Conspiracy (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Shadow Conspiracy marks Charlie Sheen's second consecutive conspiracy thriller. Of course, there are several notable differences between this and The Arrival, the most obvious of which has to do with basic quality. For, while last summer's alien invasion film used a reasonably smart script to frame its action sequences, director George P. Cosmatos' Shadow Conspiracy doesn't seem remotely concerned with the concept of "intelligence". This movie, which was originally slated for an October 1996 release, got thrown in the "wait until January" dumper with the likes of Turbulence and In Love and War. Anyone who wastes their time seeing the movie won't have to wonder why.

For an action flick to work on any level, it's necessary to get the audience's adrenaline pumping. Routine, workmanlike sequences featuring characters we don't care about in situations that aren't interesting are more likely to produce boredom than excitement, and that's exactly what happens with Shadow Conspiracy. Here, we have stereotyped villains involved in a generic, high-level conspiracy, and a couple of equally-bland heroes on the run. Even although there's supposed to have once been a love affair between the two protagonists, Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen) and Amanda Givens (Linda Hamilton), they exhibit absolutely no chemistry.

The story starts out with an extended sequence demonstrating how adept Presidential aid Bishop is at diffusing politically dangerous situations. Soon, however, he has the great misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's a witness to the murder of Professor Yuri Pochenko (Theodore Bikel), and, as a result, becomes a target himself. To stay alive, he's forced to go into hiding. Meanwhile, the Vice President (Ben Gazzara), the President (Sam Waterston), and the Chief of Staff (Donald Sutherland) want him found and brought in. Eventually, Bishop goes to his old flame, Washington Herald reporter Givens, and the two of them end up on the run together, with a crack hit man (Stephen Lang) never far behind.

As always seems to be the case in conspiracy films, the identity of the real villain is kept hidden. By the time this mastermind in unveiled -- and it's not a revelation that should shock anyone -- we simply don't care. This dismal motion picture never manages to engage us with its meandering plot and moronic dialogue, and the longer it runs, the less interested we become in anything except the arrival of the end credits.

Charlie Sheen is completely wrong for the role of Bishop. We don't believe him as the savvy spin doctor at the White House, nor do we accept him as an action hero. Linda Hamilton isn't any better. Her character's chief purpose consists of finding different ways to ask Bishop, "What are we going to do now?" It's something of a comedown for the heroine of two Terminator movies. As for Donald Sutherland… this is just another mail-in performance from an actor who has done this part far too often in recent years.

Shadow Conspiracy even manages to disappoint once you get beyond the regurgitated action sequences, limp acting, and dumb dialogue. Despite being projected with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film has a cheap, low-budget appearance. The camera work is flat and dull, and the sets are uniformly unconvincing. Everything about this movie looks cheesy, and it hurts our ability to take even the smallest details seriously. At one point, Donald Sutherland's character makes the following statement: "In reality, it's nothing but shallow, superficial, pompous manipulation." And, while that line isn't supposed to be a commentary about the movie, it might as well be.

Shadow Conspiracy (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 1997-01-31
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1