January 27, 2003 -- Chuck Barris, former host of popular television shows, The Gong Show and The Dating Game, wrote an "unauthorized" autobiography once in which he claimed to have killed 33 people as an international hit man for the CIA. Somebody decided to take him seriously and make a movie about it. The result is "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," and it is just as crazy a story as you might imagine it to be. It is also entertaining in a darkly comic kind of way.
Sam Rockwell ("Galaxy Quest") has a breakthrough performance as Barris, a mentally unstable character, who nevertheless became a very successful pioneer in the now-popular field of "reality television" prorgraming. Using the royalties of his hit song "Palisades Park," Barris made a pilot of the hit TV series, "The Dating Game." Before the show became a hit, he was recruited by a mysterious government agent (played by George Clooney, who also directs the movie) to be a contract killer for the CIA. It wouldn't seem to make much sense for Barris to be recruited by the government to be a killer. He was too high profile, literally known the world over as a television personality. Then again, if he was ever caught, who would believe him if he did admit to working for the CIA?
Although Barris becomes an effective killer and an even more effective television producer, his personal life spins out of control. He is caught by East German spies while on a mission with a very strange East German agent, Keeler (Rutger Hauer of "Blade Runner"). He has an affair with an American agent, Patricia (Julia Roberts of "Erin Brockovich"). He also has a long-running affair with his friend Penny (Drew Barrymore of "Riding in Cars With Boys"), but can't bring himself to commit to a long-term relationship. He ends up looking as wild and unkempt as Tom Hanks did in "Castaway," living as a naked recluse in a hotel room. We see way more of Rockwell's butt than we need to. Come to think of it, there was a lot of Clooney's butt in "Solaris," too. If he doesn't watch out, Clooney will become the butt of as many jokes as Mel Gibson. Barris' return to the land of the living is even more far-fetched than than his hermit hotel stage. Part of his problem is that he gets depressed over what critics say about his hit TV shows. Now, if he had started killing critics, that would have been really interesting.
Barris comes across as a gifted, but twisted character, seemingly incapable of happiness. His story is an inherently sad one. His many murders seem to be the product of his psychological profile, but the murders are not theraputic (as they were for Godfrey Cambridge's spy character in another dark comedy "The President's Analyst"). The paranoid world of espionage serves only to push Barris off the deep end. There are some things about the movie that are upbeat, but the overall effect is downbeat. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel ("X-Men") uses a lot of very high contrast footage which is the visual opposite of the moral gray areas that Barris inhabits in the movie. One scene, which shows a woman scating on ice, is so contrasty, it looks like she is skating in clouds (it is almost as memorable as the classic high angle shot of a snow-covered parking lot in "Fargo"). Sigel also uses some very extreme low and high camera angles. The result is a film that is very interesting visually. Clooney uses documentary-style, over-exposed high-contrast interviews with Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan and other real people who knew Barris to give the film an edge of reality. Included in some of the Gong Show scenes and interviews are some actual Gong Show regulars like Jamie Farr (of the MASH TV show), Murray Langston (The Unknown Comic with the paper bag over his head), Gene Patton (Gene Gene the Dancing Machine), Jaye P. Morgan and others.
One funny scene has Brad Pitt and Matt Damon playing bachelors on The Dating Game. Naturally, the girl doesn't pick either one of them as her date. The guy she does pick for her date shows up later in the movie in a totally unexpected place. Another funny scene has Patricia (Julia Roberts) supposedly in the throes of passion, licking Barris' face like a friendly dog. Then there's murder, suicide, depression and madness as part of the fun. This strange combination of tragedy, satire and comedy isn't always successful. It drags at times, at other times it seems unfocused, but it is never boring. The film is a very good first directing effort by Clooney. It rates a B.
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