In a cozy, covert U.S. government research facility, bearded refuseniks drink tea and contemplate their screen-savers. Suddenly a gunman enters and systematically slaughters the staff--all except one, who throws the assassin a curve by hiding his tea setting in a sideboard.
"Three Days of the Condor"? No, and it's not quite Robert Redford either. The one with the highly coveted info is Theodore Bikel, playing another Eastern Bloc intellectual, who draws Corvette-driving, basketball-playing presidential advisor/frat boy Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen) into a nasty nest of clandestine government and anti-American subterfuge.
"Shadow Conspiracy" is one of those movies that would make you ask, "Where do they get this stuff?," except you probably know the answer already. "Condor." "The Parallax View." Any of Hitchcock's "wrong man" movies. In one scene, a marquee advertising "Touch of Evil" tries to implicate Orson Welles in this mess, and the relentless killer played by Stephen Lang seems straight out of "Terminator II."
Speaking of which: The recently resuscitated Linda Hamilton is in the cast, as a member of the White House press corps with bad taste in hats and even worse taste in men--she and Bishop have a history (of course), which intrudes itself on an already crowded narrative. Desperately, the two try to outrun the traitors at the high end of the governmental food chain who want to usurp the president (Sam Waterston) by any means necessary and install a government that best resembles their idea of civilization.
Did we mention "Seven Days in May"? How about the Ollie North trials? It hardly matters. The overriding problem with "Shadow Conspiracy," which was never meant to be taken seriously anyway, is that there isn't an appealing person in it. Donald Sutherland, as the White House chief of staff, looks as if he's prepping for "The Jack Kevorkian Story." Ben Gazzara, as the vice president, reminded me a lot of Dick Morris. Hamilton and Sheen deserve each other and Gore Vidal, in a cameo as the crooked Congressman Page, seems to be mortified, probably because he's found himself in this movie.
Watching the direction of George P. Cosmatos--who's been responsible for "Rambo II," "Cobra" and "The Cassandra Crossing," as well as the far more palatable "Tombstone"--one begins to admire Lang's efficiency as a trained killer. You might even root for him.
Cosmatos' chase scenes are perfunctory exercises that generate little or no suspense. The first chase comes too soon (because you know it's too early for the hero to die), and others come too late (because the nation must survive and Bobby's the only one who can save it). There's even a pursuit inside the White House and its network of subterranean tunnels that is not just prolonged but in defiance of several laws of physics.
And as each member of the cast tries, none too successfully, to convince us there are vital matters at risk here, the howlers multiply, as do the lines for the exits.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong language, violence. Times guidelines: too intense for children.
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Charlie Sheen: Bobby Bishop
Linda Hamilton: Amanda Givens
Donald Sutherland: Conrad
Stephen Lang: The Agent
Sam Waterston: The President
A Hollywood Pictures/Andrew G. Vajna presentation of a Cinergi production. Director George P. Cosmatos. Producer Terry Collis. Executive producers Andrew G. Vajna, Buzz Feitshans. Writers Adi Hasak, Ric Gibbs. Photography Buzz Feitshans IV. Production design Joe Alves. Editor Robert A. Ferretti. Music Bruce Broughton. Costumes April Ferry. Art director Bill Hiney. Set decorator Anne D. McCulley. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.