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Only the Shadow Conspiracy Knows

Shadow Conspiracy
Bob Marshak

Tunnel Vision: Charlie Sheen goes jogging in the DC subway to tone up for his role in "The Shadow Conspiracy."

Can the president's defense cuts be saved!? Will the kindly old chief of staff turn out to be the villain!? Is this the year's silliest movie!?

By Richard von Busack

Yuri Pochenko (Theodore Bikel), an old professor with a Ludwig von Drake accent, looks up from his computer screen at the Center for Civic Responsibility. He calls his former student, now a special adviser to the president, with an important message ("Gott, I'm terrified"). Within minutes, an assassin arrives to shoot Pochenko and his whole think tank--and their basket of puppies (actually, he just lets the pups off with a warning).

So, our only hope is the adviser in question: two-fisted policy wonk Bobby Bishop (Charlie Sheen). He is brilliant, but a man of the people. He plays basketball with the racially disadvantaged, yet he is comfortable enough with the mighty to wear those self-same basketball sweats to the White House.

Crisis: All hands on deck! The president (Sam Waterston) has been promising deep cuts in the defense budget. He's gone too far! Donald Sutherland, in his 679,458th movie role, plays paternal Jake Conrad, chief of staff, who tries to make Bishop realize that the president could crash the economy if he slashes military spending too drastically. "This country is falling apart," Conrad mumbles. He couldn't be in on the conspiracy, could he? Why, he's like a father to Bishop.

Pretty soon, Bishop runs for his life with reporter Amanda Givens (Linda Hamilton) in a flourish of crashing elevators, sluicing water slides and a motorcycle guy who chases them through the Foggy Bottom Metro Station.

Bruce Broughton's "Triumphal March for the Arrival of John Williams in Parnassus" plays so loud that it even drowns out the sound of a window-washing gondola smashing into a grand piano. At the end of the show, Bishop saves the day with a net full of balloons.

Remembering Bret Harte's epitaph "Here lies a fool who tried to hustle the East" is the best way to compare this George Cosmatos stinker with the Hong Kong thrillers it's modeled on. If I were director Cosmatos, I'd start claiming that The Shadow Conspiracy was a spoof.

The errant tedium and lack of genuine paranoid atmosphere, the bait and switch of Gore Vidal (on screen for 45 seconds), a flock of assassins about as terrifying as Church of Latter-day Saints volunteers--all of this is capped with the crowning indignity, a scene outside a theater playing Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. When will these pip-squeaks learn never to quote from a movie better than their own?

The Shadow Conspiracy (R; 103 min.), directed by George Cosmatos, written by Adi Hasak and Ric Gibbs, photographed by Buzz Feitshans IV and starring Charlie Sheen, Donald Sutherland and Linda Hamilton.

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