Shadow Conspiracy News Flash: Gov't is Corrupt!

If you're a true conspiracy theorist and figure out the plot of Shadow Conspiracy by the time all the characters are introduced, you just may think your own brain is being used in a secret government experiment while viewing this film -- one designed to test the limits of your hearing and hypnotize you slack-jawed with its blink-blink-blink computer graphics. It's okay; no one will see you drooling in the dark during this formulaic action-thriller with lots of activity, fewer thrills and hackneyed story ideas. Charlie Sheen plays George Stephanopoulos, er, Bobby Bishop, the young, White House hot-shot who shows up to Cabinet meetings sweating from playing hoops with the dudes of D.C. The other characters you have to keep track of (this is not hard) a re Donald Sutherland as Conrad, a father figure to Bobby and high, high up on the power ladder inside the White House; and Linda Hamilton as The Herald reporter, Amanda Givens, who is notable for wearing some curious hats and having bitchy spats with Bobby, who is her sworn enemy even though, apparently, they used to be lovers. Oh, yeah, the important guy: Sam Waterston as The President, a guy just elected to his second term, and, having spent his first putting out fires, wants to let loose with long-desired changes. Does any of this sound familiar?The opening fifteen minutes is meant to jolt you out of your winter stupor. We have nothing to fear but us, ourselves, and the speechless, white-coated Agent who comes to kill us if we know too much about something. It seems a Professor Pochenko and his colleagues have been tracking an inside government power ring, and since Bobby (and Amanda, it turns out) used to be students of Pochenko's, the professor still has access to Bobby. When the professor's colleagues are killed, his research shredded and he is hunted down on the lovely streets of Georgetown, Pochenko has delivered only the vaguest of warnings to Bobby.Here's where the action comes in. Bobby's being shot at, and he is trying to elude the Agent (who looks suspiciously Eastern European or Russian -- we just can't let go of that Cold War thang). An episode in the D.C. Power and Water Works is kind of thrilling, but Sheen runs like an ox and has a perpetual surprised expression on his face. When he stops for a breather in his expensive suit and Oxfords, he still has his cellular phone in his pocket! But, his calls are being monitored, and he refuses to come back "home," as Conrad puts it, before he finds out what's going on.The only person he trusts now, it seems, is the person he absolutely did not trust before the day before -- Amanda, who joins his jaunt against time, the Agent, and cracking a sophisticated trap in, oh, about five hours. There's two more action sequences to keep you warmed up: one involving the D.C. subway, and the other a White House elevator to the roof.Nicholas Turturro does his NYPD Blue schtick as a surveillance expert called in to track Bobby and Amanda -- excellent graphics here: satellite tracers, license plate tracers, big screens, dark walls. It's a war room in which the war is scouring everything from the entire planet to square inches on a D.C. sidewalk. Gore Vidal even does a cameo as a Southern Congressman looking like a rumpled Colo nel Sanders. Ben Gazzara is wasted as Vice President Saxon. But the real curiosity is Donald Sutherland, who still has some subtle, snaky chops as an actor, but keeps taking these roles with lines like, "This country's falling apart," and doing spectacular wimp-outs at the end. Oh, the end. It does come -- with many incongruities. I don't have to tell you who's left standing, do I?One nice touch: the film opens with intense close-ups of surveillance equipment monitoring a phone call (in fact, the close-ups may give you headaches; Sheen's whole face hardly ever fits on screen in a close-up) and ends with an image of the whole world. Showing off the power of the camera? Or just feeding your middle-of-the-night-we're-being-watched fears -- or hopes?

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