Those of us who enjoyed Chuck Barris as host of TV's outrageous Gong Show back in the 70s didn't realize he was also living a secret life as a CIA hit man. In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the movie based on his "unauthorized autobiography," Barris emerges as a man without a soul, someone not only responsible for starting the dreadful TV reality craze but also for over 30 international assassinations. My confession? After watching this uneven flick, I found Barris's cloak-and-dagger stuff completely unbelievable -- kinda like Arnold Schwarzenegger running for governor of California.
Still, it's a great idea for a movie. And the cast couldn't be better: Sam Rockwell as Barris, George Clooney portraying the mysterious CIA recruiter, Drew Barrymore as a long-suffering girl friend, Julia Roberts trying out a Mata Hari-type spy role -- with cameos by such big stars as Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. So how did things go wrong?
First of all, as good as Rockwell (Heist) is at imitating Barris -- especially during those Gong Show sequences -- he's playing a character who's difficult to care about. In addition to the Gong Show, Barris created The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game, each successful because of the humiliation contestants were willing to endure in return for being on TV. Current descendants of these programs include Fear Factor, Survivor, Big Brother and even American Idol. (Thanks, Chuck.) Among his many other faults, Barris is a confirmed womanizer who mistreats Penny (Barrymore), his main love interest. Why she put up with it remains a mystery to me.
Making his directorial debut here, Clooney deserves some of the blame for the film's failures. I like artsy shots and experimental camera work as much as anyone, but -- as in all things -- moderation should be the key. An over-emphasis on shadowy sequences, flashback color changes, and odd camera angles interrupts the story when viewers should be paying close attention to what's happening. And tell us, George, why focus so much on Rockwell's naked backside? Hmm.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) is another culprit. His confusing script moves around in circles so much it made my head spin. But maybe that's how Barris felt about his own life, and it caused him to be delusional. I'll probably suffer the same fate if I sit through one more Kaufman movie.
Because of films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, nostalgia just ain't what it used to be.
(Released by Miramax Home Entertainment and rated "R" for language, sexual content and violence. The DVD, available on September 9, 2003, includes such features as deleted scenes, Gong Show acts, commentary by George Clooney, and the Sam Rockwell screen test.)