In the era of American Idol and The Bachelor, Chuck Barris’s legendary creation The Gong Show is the perfect satirical foil for a film about the pervasive willingness to do anything for a minute on television. Its immodest, almost cruel exploitation of “talent” could be used to expose the foolishness of no-holds-barred pop culture, the emptiness revealed beyond the curtains of that corner of the American Dream. Sadly, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind blows its chance to be that film, instead opting for a fantastical extrapolation of Gong Show/Dating Game creator Barris’s purported moonlight job as a C.I.A. hitman. Played by Sam Rockwell in a charming but ultimately shallow performance, Barris is an idealist with a flashy smile and enough chutzpah to get his foot in the door at NBC. But he gets restless living a life spent brainstorming new TV show ideas and staying committed to his girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore, giving the film its few genuine moments), and as luck would have it, he gets recruited by a mysterious C.I.A. agent (George Clooney) who swiftly turns him into an “assassination enthusiast.” Confessions, which was based on Barris’s own “unauthorized” autobiography, feels less like a truthful confession than a tall tale meant to distract viewers from the facts. It barely throws in enough moments taken from Barris’s life to uphold its fragile semblance of reality, giving The Dating Game 10 minutes of screen time and The Gong Show even less. (The film throws in sound-bite testimonials from Gong Show panelist Jaye P. Morgan but has no room for her as a character.) Despite the inventive direction of first-time helmer Clooney, this obvious disinterest in what’s truly palpable makes the film’s nonsense impossible to accept. Instead of Barris’s real-life events lending weight to the fanciful C.I.A. plot, the overload of murders and double-crosses only make Barris’s life seem more and more like the folly of a screenwriter’s imagination. (The entire film bears the hand of Donald Kaufman’s revisions found in the last 30 minutes of Adaptation.) All that aside, the film is still unlikable as it can’t even be bothered to provide Julia Roberts, who shows up playing a seductive (read: boring) agent Barris gets involved with, a satisfying death scene. She sputters out long after the film has.
Go figure. Chicago won all the Oscars but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind gets the better DVD package. The film is an intriguing mess but I can't think of another film this side of Far from Heaven so meticulously put together. Shot by fan boy favorite Newton Thomas Sigel on Super 35, every visual nuance of the film is presented on this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in eye-popping splendor. Despite some noticeable grain (to be expected on a transfer for a film this radically shot), there are little-to-no compression artifacts, edge enhancement is nil, black levels are luscious, and skin tones are remarkable. All in all, one of the best video transfers to come out of the Mouse House. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is almost up to par. This mix features some aggressive surrounds and dialogue reproduction is crystal clear. The score can be a little overwhelming at times but this is otherwise an excellent and expansive mix.
First up is an excellent commentary track by a very enthusiastic George Clooney and Newton Thomas Sigel. Ripe with killer anecdotes (including the über-Freudian slip "We brought Dick [Clark] out to the Playboy Mansion") and cheery explanations for some of the film's more elaborate set pieces, this commentary track makes for an informative and exciting sit. I don't know what to make of Clooney modeling so many sequences in the film off of other scenes from other director's works (End of the Road, All the Presidents Men, Carnal Knowledge, The Boston Strangler and a John Frankenheimer TV production of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" are just some of the sources Clooney cribbed from), but he still shows a remarkable sure-footed confidence behind the camera that's rare for most actor-turned-directors. Next you'll want to check out the 12 deleted scenes, included here with optional director's commentary. This is a rare example of deleted scenes that are worth sitting through-don't miss the incredibly evocative "Day of the Dead" sequence, apparently a favorite of Sigel's. The six-part making-of featurette offers a solid glimpse at various aspects of the production, from the "reality" of many of Chuck Barris's stories to how many of the special effects in the film were successfully and seamlessly brought to the screen. "The Real Chuck Barris" is a short but handsomely mounted featurette including insightful interviews from Dick Clark, Gene Gene, Jaye P. Morgan and Barris himself. (It's rare to see a DVD documentary that's been so painstakingly produced to match the aesthetic of the film itself.) Rounding out the disc are three Sam Rockwell screen tests, five Gong Show acts from the film presented in their entirety, a still gallery and a bloopers easter egg. No trailer for the film but we do get a killer sneak peek at Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Kill Bill!
A meaty, insightful and genuinely exciting collection of supplemental features highlight this Confessions of a Dangerous Mind DVD edition. Too bad the crummy cover art may deter some prospective buyers.