Courtesy Photo
Directed by George Cosmatos

Starring Charlie Sheen, Donald Sutherland, Linda Hamilton & Sam Waterston.

"Shadow Conspiracy"

Opened: January 31, 1997 | Rated: R

The title of Charlie Sheen's new film, "Shadow Conspiracy," is misleading. The movie is 93 minutes and at best three of those minutes have anything to do with conspiracy.

The rest of the film is Sheen, playing a George Stephanopoulos-styled presidential adviser, being chased around Washington D.C. by an assassin who is a terrible shot and has no speaking lines.

The plot -- what there is of it -- involves Chief of Staff Donald Sutherland and his part in a bunch of closed-door shenanigans by cabinet members planning an assassination of the President (scenery-chewing Sam Waterston).

The film opens with the silent assassin taking out the members of a non-profit think tank that has uncovered the turncoats in the administration. These killings are set to opera music -- a cliche that doesn't bode well for the rest of the film -- and it's pretty much downhill from there, with each scene another incompetent use of shopworn plot devises.

We meet Sheen as he's playing blacktop basketball with his street chums in a tough part of D.C. (to show he's just an average guy), just before he's picked up by a helicopter and flown to the White House for a press conference.

There he is lambasted with tough questions from a star newspaper reporter (Linda Hamilton), who, naturally, happens to be his ex-girlfriend.

That evening Sheen is accosted by the one survivor of the think tank melee, who manages to tell him the basics of the conspiracy before the assassin shoots him in the forehead, in mid-sentence.

OK, so the assassin knows that Sheen knows there's plot. Sheen knows there's a plot but has no specifics. Subsequently, he runs around D.C. looking for clues and trying not to get shot until the climax involving a toy helicopter mounted with a machine gun.

Now, I'm often willing to forgive little misconceptions and reality gaps in a movie I'm enjoying, but "Shadow Conspiracy" is riddled with so many of these avoidable problems that it demonstrates a astonishing lack of common sense on the part of director George P. Cosmatos ("Rambo II," "Cobra").

For example:

  • Hamilton, allegedly a highly-regarded political reporter, nonetheless dresses like a trampy reject from the JC Penny's catalog, wearing unprofessionally short skirts and very tacky hats.

  • The film takes place immediately after the president's re-election, but it is clearly not winter in Washington as Sutherland and Sheen have dinner at an outdoor restaurant.

  • While on the run, Sheen finds a laptop computer from the think tank which contains a list of the conspirators. With the assassin hot on his tail, he desperately rushes to print out a copy of the list. Um, Chuck? That's a portable computer, pal. Take it with you.

  • When the source for a story doesn't answer his door, Hamilton jimmies the lock with...a nail file.

    The film later goes from sloppy and hackneyed to unintentionally comical when Sheen breaks into Sutherland's White House computer and is greeted by a screen reading "Chiief of Staff" -- yes, the White House computer has a typo.

    After that, everything is funny. The biggest laughs come when Sheen and Hamilton are chased around the White House by the Secret Service and when a gadget the assassin has been diligently working on throughout the film turns out to be a remote control helicopter that chases the president around a charity ball in the finale (and subsequently crashes, somehow causing a large explosion).

    Three years ago Waterston played another plotted-against president in "The Enemy Within," an HBO remake of John Frankenheimer's "Seven Days in May." That film, featuring a far superior cast headed by Forest Whitaker and Jason Robards, is available on video and has a genuine sense of intelligent tension that turns on a military coup and a loophole in the Constitution.

    My point? Stay home and rent that one.

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