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.
- George Clooney
- Charlie Kaufman
- Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Rutger Hauer, Robert John Burke, Jerry Weintraub, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts
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