Guilty Pleasures: Kelli Stanley

Editor’s note: After a month plus hiatus, Guilty Pleasures is back! We have a very nice line-up in the coming weeks. SJ Rozan, Megan Abbott, Toni Kelner are just a few of the talented souls that will be joining us. But today, Kelli Stanley steps into the confessional:

Guilty Pleasure: Conspiracy Theory
By Kelli Stanley

It took me awhile to choose which Guilty Pleasure to write about for Jeremy’s wholly pleasurable column … so many to choose from, and all weird and wonderful.

The bizarre children’s musical-cum-spy thriller Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Viva Las Vegas, with its dreadful acting but incredible dancing by Ann-Margret and Elvis? Or one of those Schwarzenegger movies that you watch when you’re sick at home and there’s nothing else on cable … like the eerily prophetic The 6th Day?

[Actually, I think you could fill up a year’s worth of blog posts with the Guilty Pleasure films of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis, and it would an interesting debate as to who was the most guilty. But I digress …]

So, of course, I chose none of the above, and went with a Mel Gibson (yes, that Mel Gibson) movie. These days, naming a Mel Gibson flick not only makes me guilty, but convicted … but bear with me here. Conspiracy Theory succeeds precisely because it taps into a side of Gibson’s energy that would personally and publicly manifest itself later, to the detriment of his career.
Yeah, he is a good actor, but I’m not talking acting. I’m talking persona. And if you watch Conspiracy Theory—in which he convincingly plays a paranoid (yes, you guessed it) conspiracy theorist—complete with the manic energy of Lethal Weapon and repressed rage of Edge of Darkness (another guilty pleasure), you sense a oneness with the role that his other films lack.
Gibson brilliantly articulates his character’s paranoia and anti-government rants (“The Vietnam War was fought over a bet that Howard Hughes lost to Aristotle Onassis”), and he’s helped by a fine script (“July eighth, 1979, all the fathers of Nobel Prize winners were rounded up by United Nations military units, all right, and actually forced at gunpoint to give semen samples in little plastic jars, which are now stored below Rockefeller Center underneath the ice skating rink”) that seems more like scary-funny improv. Veteran director Richard Donner keeps the focus on action and humor, though several sequences (particularly when gunmen break into Gibson’s amazing bunker-apartment) are quite suspenseful.

The rest of the cast is also strong: Gibson had great charisma with Julia Roberts, who portrays a Justice Department Attorney, and Patrick Stewart romps through his role as a deliciously hammy villain.

What really sells me on Conspiracy Theory, though, is the age-old premise that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. The hook of “What if they’re right?” is a powerful one, and my generation is incredibly paranoid, anyway: I was born in the ‘60s and grew up with Night Gallery, images of Vietnam POWs and Watergate. We’re the last of the Baby Boomers, and we trust no one.

All of this makes Conspiracy Theory the perfect guilty pleasure. I’ve even watched it more than once, and recommend you do, too. Just don’t tell anyone. You never know who could be listening…

Kelli Stanley is a fedora-wearing, word-writing, dog-walking San Francisco gal. She is the author of four novels, including the award-winning  Miranda Corbie series as well as a series of hardboiled novels set in ancient Rome. You can learn more about her at You can also find her on twitter at:!/kelli_stanley