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The Canadian Conspiracy (1986)

by on 2012/09/22

“The CBC is, I think, where a lot of Canadians start. It’s like a paid education. You get to receive money for running shows where you don’t really know what you’re doing yet. You can try it out and, when you’ve got it down, go to the States.”

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If Canada is training for success in America, then The Canadian Conspiracy suggests we’ll never get near the border.

Of course, this conclusion is demonstrably false, so we might assume the mockumentary is full of . . . let’s say poutine. Ca va faire une maudite poutine, indeed.

The irony is, I’ve seen the video before, and have wanted to review it for years. I thought, “There’s nothing else quite like it. It needs a proper video release, at least as an extra on an SCTV set, or even with Canadian Bacon.” Sadly, when I rewatched it again, I was sorely disappointed.

Ostensibly the product of the (fictional) American News Network, this tabloid exposé explores the various connections between southward-bound entertainers and a rather inconsistent conspiracy. Participants include many well-known Canadians: Alan Thicke, Anne Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Dave Thomas, Doug Henning, Howie Mandel, Ivan Reitman, John Candy, Leslie Nielsen, Lorne Michaels, Margot Kidder, Martin Short, Monty Hall, Morley Safer, Rich Little, Susan Clark, Tommy Chong, and William Shatner, all anchored by more substantial roles for Eugene Levy and Lorne Greene.

They speak vaguely, sometimes cross-purposes, and often in vehement protestation, of a conspiracy uncovered in 1952, stretching back as far as 1920s Hollywood. Over the generations, Canada has infiltrated movies, politics, television, and (shudder) the board game industry.

I’ve already more than telegraphed my disappointment here, so there’s really no sense in my wasting time and effort being charitable now. This production is a mess from start to finish.

By its nature, tabloid TV is shambolic. Viewer discretion is advised. A melodramatic voiceover sows discord. Interview subjects refuse to cooperate, become aggressive, and attack the handheld cameras. Silhouetted informants have their voices changed. Mug shots and archival documents are stung with orchestral hits and dramatic superimpositions.

It all comes across like Ed Wood — the director, not the biopic — taken to an extreme. Apparently the filmmakers had access to a bunch of stock footage and facilities, and cobbled it all together to create something new. Kudos for trying but, unfortunately, it’s disjointed and largely unfunny.

If the jokes were effective in the Eighties, they certainly aren’t now. The bits about wintry weather are unsuccessful, less for being untrue than for their constant, near-incessant repetition. In truth, other than a handful of standby clichés, there’s little to do with Canada directly. It’s more a collection of third-rate gags: place names are deliberately mispronounced, voices are altered as if with helium, subtitles stray from the script, “viscious guard dogs” are revealed to be practical rodents, and who could ever forget about . . . uh, what’s his name again? It’s all as tiring as it is tired.

The kindest thing I can say about The Canadian Conspiracy is also the source of one of its most serious flaws. It’s an impressive assortment of talent but — despite the participants’ enthusiasm — they all seem a bit confused in their roles overall. Maybe that’s part and parcel of a conspiracy’s dysfunction, but it doesn’t make for compelling entertainment. Once you’ve laughed at the central conceit, there’s not much else to discover. It’s a one-note affair, sustained far too long, and padded with repetition and inanity.

Among the descriptors scattered in my notes are the following: embarrassing, hokey, inoffensive, laboured, naive, provincial, and quaint. No wonder Canada is sometimes seen as an insecure country with little to offer, yet pityingly desperate to please. Reason enough perhaps to leave such videos out of print.

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Not rated

Approximately 70 minutes

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