'JFK, The Smoking Gun' review: Conspiracy theory documentary feels recycled

Howard Donahue (Michael Hearn) studies bullet trajectory model

Howard Donahue (Michael Hearn) studies bullet trajectory model skull in Reelz' "JFK: The Smoking Gun." (Credit: Muse Entertainment, 2013)

THE SHOW "JFK: The Smoking Gun"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on Reelz

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The crush of JFK-related specials leading up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination begins with (what else?) this conspiracy theory documentary that postulates a Secret Service agent riding in the car behind Kennedy's limousine accidentally discharged his weapon -- the third shot that killed the president.


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Veteran Australian detective Colin McLaren essentially says this theory, which was first postulated by a ballistics expert, Howard Donahue (who died in 1999), and later written up in the 1992 book by Bonar Menninger, "Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK," is in fact the correct one. Per McLaren, the agent unlatched the safety lock on his automatic rifle after hearing the first shots, then stood up in the car and fell backward when it lurched forward. The gun went off at that point.

MY SAY Any JFK assassination conspiracy theory can be like a long ride down dark alleys, past empty buildings, and scarred landscapes... The view is invariably depressing, but rarely dull and always compelling -- to a point, anyway, and then it's just plain blight.

That point arrives fairly early in "The Smoking Gun" when it becomes obvious that McLaren has nothing much more to add to what Donahue postulated many years ago: The clumsy Secret Service agent did it. Like all conspiracy theories, or at least the good ones, this one luxuriates in the amassed evidence that would seem to point to an inevitable conclusion, unless evidence to the contrary is presented, which never is here. But then that's the strange Kafka-esque reality of the entire JFK conspiracy industry. For every bumbling Secret Service agent, there's some guy over on Grassy Knoll. There are hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of competing theories, and maybe one of them is true. Is this finally that one? What do you think?

BOTTOM LINE Recycled theory with some fresh perspective -- but it still smells recycled.

GRADE C

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