Shadow Conspiracy (1997)
Director: George Pan Cosmatos
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Donald Sutherland, Linda Hamilton
Release date: January 31 (US). At least it’s not a rom-dram-com again, a third consecutive one of those might have proved cataclysmic with regard to my sanity. May contain winning and spoilers…
Stupid feckin movie. I couldn’t be bothered paying attention and I’ve probably missed a detail or two. Take the Russians, for example. These poor twats are getting mown down by The Agent, but I’m not entirely sure why. One bloke escapes, Pochenko (Theodore Bikel) and warns Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen) of a 5th Column inside the Government. Then he gets biffed through the skull by The Agent. Yeh, The Agent – he hasn’t got a name (he’s played with grim determination by Stephen Lang), I’ll invent one for him if you want. Doris, how’s that? Anyway, the President (Sam Waterston) has scribbled an incendiary speech with the help of Bishop who is thought of as some kind of Wunderkind around the White House. So obscenely well thought of, I was expecting a scene of everyone having a group-jizz in his honour. Of course, merely being friendly with Pochenko puts Bishop in danger from the ‘shadow government’ directed Doris. That’s as much as I followed the actual plot. There’s no real reason to follow it. I mean, I was watching the movie, sort of, but then I started pissing around with my iPhone playing Temple Run.
From here on in, Shadow Conspiracy is an extended chase movie. You’ve seen hundreds, you can trawl through the whole movie pointing out similarities with other films, plus a homage here and there. If I fire off the main players you’ll have this worked out in no time, George Pan Cosmatos doesn’t even attempt to put a different spin on anything. He hopes political intrigue married to plenty of action and presided over by a watchable cast will rock our collective Kasbah. Not even close, George. I get the impression cast and crew expected Shadow Conspiracy to be… maybe not huge but on a par with Pan Cosmatos’s Tombstone, kind of a sleeper hit. Bruce Broughton, for example, brings in a massive sounding score… and the London Sinfonia barely relents all the way through, it’s wall to wall music and after awhile I actually got knackered just listening to it. Kee-rist, Bruce must’ve wrote hours of music for this gig, I don’t think there’s a single minute unscored.
But, yeh, who else have we got in here… Conrad (Donald Sutherland) is best mates with Bishop, he’s like a father figure to him. When shit gets rough, Bishop can totally rely on Conrad. Totally. Amanda Givens (Linda Hamilton) is a journalist for The Herald who’s got the scoop on the President’s speech. There’s obviously been a bit of previous and naturally, she becomes implicated in all the killing and is forced to team up with Bishop even though she can’t stand the sight of him. The remainder of the cast is filled out with knowns, Ben Gazarra is the Vice President, Saxon; Paul ‘Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?’ Gleason is Conrad’s assistant, Blythe; Terry O’Quinn is Amanda’s boss, Frank Rydell. All are completely unremarkable through no fault of their own. Anyway, back to Golden Balls Bishop… Wunderkind? He’s at the docks, right, gonna record a bunch of ‘shadow government’ types and catch all of their disreputable plotting on tape. Do you know what this cocktrumpet does? He presses ‘eject’ instead of ‘record’ and the cassette drops into the drink. There’s yer Wunderkind in a nutshell.
Once Amanda is in tow Shadow Conspiracy plays like The Terminator, Hamilton must be having déjà vu. Lang’s hit man doesn’t say a word throughout, he’s a killing machine. He tests out a new weapon by blowing a model kit power loader from Aliens to smithereens. In fact, if you listen carefully at the beginning of the film they use a sound effect from Alien. Sheen’s character surname (and wasn’t ‘Givens’ a night-watchman in T2)? Amanda’s got a jeep and after a rumble with Doris the roof comes off… now it looks like Sarah’s vehicle at the end of The Terminator? She even puts the shades on eventually. I’m sure it’s all deliberate. Some of the action takes place in Georgetown and Pan Cosmatos makes sure he gets in a scene of nuns walking along a street, not to mention Bishop at the foot of The Exorcist steps… I’m not averse to this kind of thing but I get distracted if the film playing isn’t holding its own. Shadow Conspiracy isn’t. One shoot-out takes place in front of a cinema showing Touch Of Evil… You’ll wish you were watching Touch Of Evil.
Here and there you’ll find a fairly palatable diversion; The Agent’s hit man sidekick on a motorbike ploughing through pedestrians on an escalator into the subway is a giggle, Bishop somehow managing to outrun the bike. A lot of the other stuff doesn’t stand up to scrutiny… By the time Bishop and Amanda brazenly march into The White House – uh-huh, The White House, for Christ’s sake – in plain view yet unseen (security cameras anyone… anyone?), they are prominently on the ‘Number One (and Two) Most Wanted’ list. But apparently their entry doesn’t even flag up at the security desk in any way, shape or form. Plus there follows a clunky set-piece in an elevator shaft, a spot of wrestling, while the lift goes up and down unexcitingly not really threatening to crush anyone. I can’t even recall why they’ve gone to The White House. I think they need to access personal computer files, so we get an always unconvincing ‘guess the password’ scene. Guessing correctly hits pay dirt; the identity of the person behind a plot to kill the Prez. You’ll have correctly identified the culprit 5 minutes into the movie, no password necessary.
I can’t criticise the actors too much, not with a script as banal as this in front of them. Nothing asks them to go beyond turning up and reading it. They’ve all resorted to ‘identikit’ performances, particularly Sutherland. Charlie’s okay, he’s ducking and diving a lot which suits him, emoting not required, plus he does a comedy German accent at one point, worth a laugh. Hamilton, the same, but she is basically doing a savvier Sarah Connor circa 1984. Nevertheless, Hamilton is a study in ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ throughout. Stephen Lang makes the most of his silent killer role; he is at least a presence. Unfortunately, he’s stricken with ‘movie hitman-itis’; he can shoot the leg off a grasshopper from 50 paces. Can he pop a cap in Bishop’s donkey from two yards? For fuck’s sake, The Agent’s got him trapped on one of those window washing platforms high up a building and he shoots the suspension cables instead of Bishop! And I simply refuse to get into the physics of the finale, The Agent going after the Prez with a remote controlled toy helicopter (oddly familiar) loaded for bear, or Bishop out to bamboozle it with a bunch of balloons.
It’s sad that Shadow Conspiracy was George Pan Cosmatos’s final movie before he checked out in 2005. At least there’s always Leviathan and Tombstone, may as well throw in Of Unknown Origin as well, eh…
Two chase scenes – lucky you…: http://tinyurl.com/caetpaa
It’s having 1 Winning Sheen out of 5.
ThereWolf, June 2012