. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Diverting Plot Sheds Some Light On the Shadows in 'Conspiracy'

An old friend returns to the Moscow cinema this week, and boy, are we sure glad to see him. That's right, those ululations of joy you hear up and down Tverskaya are rapturous cries of welcome for none other than Charlie Sheen! Yes, he, whose gently grinding one-note voice could make a dial tone sound like Pavarotti. He, whose sheer star power can command the screen for whole seconds at a time. He, whose facial expressiveness can sometimes rival sheet rock at its most vivid -- he is among us once again.


Last seen here as a grunge-funky techno-wonk saving the world from overheated aliens, Sheen, in his new offering, "The Shadow Conspiracy," opening Monday at the Americom House of Cinema, appears as a buttoned-down policy wonk saving America from -- well, there's no other way to say it -- a shadowy conspiracy.


We wouldn't want to give away the plot or anything, but you can be sure the proceedings afoot here involve high-level government corruption, ruthless hired killers, betrayals of trust, reversals of fortune, and a frantic race against the clock to save the guttering candle of democracy. Sheen, whose acting prowess has threatened many a paper bag (without ever actually breaking out), may seem unlikely to be typecast as the last best hope of humanity -- but then again, people thought Alexander Lukashenko would never prove himself a wise and kindly steward of his people, either. It just goes to show you.


As the curtain rises, we find Sheen tearing into the role of Bobby Bishop, the hot-shot, right-hand man of the president of the United States. But his giddy sojourn at the top doesn't last long; before you can say "means-adjusted benefits test" (which no one actually says in the movie, but it sounds pretty wonky, doesn't it?), our boy is framed for murder and is on the run from the aforementioned ruthless hit man (Stephen Lang).


Well, when a feller finds himself in a pickle like this, there's only one place he can turn: to his ex-girlfriend, of course. Especially if his ex-girlfriend just happens to be Amanda Givens (Linda Hamilton), a feisty, savvy, verbally combative ace reporter for the Washington Herald. With bickering banter that would be reminiscent of Tracy and Hepburn, if Tracy and Hepburn had been leaden and obvious, the pair soon find themselves unraveling a plot that threatens to bring down the U.S. government and replace it with a military dictatorship or a one-world tyranny or a self-service gas station, or something. Whatever it is, it's bad, and only Bobby and Mandy can stop it.


But we've had our fun; now let's be fair. "The Shadow Conspiracy" actually has a fairly ingenious plot and it follows in the footsteps of "Mission: Impossible" by using good actors and brisk pacing to obscure the various plot-holes and inanities of the script. This is called sleight-of-hand, and it's as honorable a form of entertainment as any other. And just as "Mission" upgraded its automatic Tom Cruise box-office hardware with interesting actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Kristin Scott-Thomas, "Shadow Conspiracy" surrounds Sheen with a solid cast that includes Sam Waterston, Donald Sutherland, Ben Gazzara, and, in an inspired bit of quirky casting, the novelist and longtime political gadfly, Gore Vidal.


If director George Cosmatos had taken that core of fine players, put them in a realistic political scenario, and hired Vidal to write the screenplay, then he could have given us a sharp, witty, entertaining and disturbing look at the realities of power. Instead, we get the usual stew of familiar generic ingredients -- but, it must be said, served up with pretty decent flair. If you're in the mood for some harmless diversion, and you've not yet glutted yourself on Charlie Sheen (if a surfeit of such manna can even be imagined), you could probably do worse than spend an hour or two in the "Shadow" of this "Conspiracy."


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Moscow's latest English-language film venue, the Petrovsky Cinema Hall, has taken just a tiny step backward in its latest offering of videos projected on a big screen. First it was the Oscar-winning "Leaving Las Vegas," then a 1996 film of Gogol's "The Inspector General;" now it's "Electra," a 1995 sci-fi soft-porn release that opened Thursday. Try not to confuse it with anything involving the House of Atreus or Eugene O'Neill.


No, here we have the sculpted shape of former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed starring as a tool in the hands of an evil mad scientist-billionaire, who is seeking a serum that will turn your average schlemiel into an ubermensch. The secret jazzmo is hidden in the body of a studly young man, and can only be obtained through sexual intercourse. Just imagine the possibilities for deft and sensitive human drama in that!