Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Rated: R
Genre: drama-comedy
Stars: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Director: George Clooney
Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman and based on the book by Chuck Barris

Chuck Barris, the prolific creator of absurdist TV game shows, has been out of the limelight for over 20 years now. So, as his last hurrah, he conjured a recreation of himself as a CIA assassin which is the premise behind his “autobiography” Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. It should be “Confessions of a Demented Mind”. I suppose if you buy the premise that the short, unattractive, insensitive mega-dufus Barris could do anything to save our country from the dreaded commies of the cold war, you’ll be buying into this foolishness whole hog. I for one did not.

Hollywood got wind of the tall tale (20 years after publication) and turned it into a dreadful movie. Charlie Kaufman, the bamboozled writer who ingeniously created a twin brother and then injected both himself and the manufactured sibling into his screenplay for Adaptation, must have lost what was left of his mind when he wrote this thing. Maybe they were waiting for a writer as nuts as he to come along to craft the story. And poor George Clooney … you’d think he’d have better taste in choosing a project for his directorial debut. But I’m sure he got a good dose of experience, nevertheless.

Barris (Sam Rockwell – who does a good job overall), if you don’t remember (or want to) is the creator of such junk TV as The Dating Game, The Gong Show, and The Newlywed Game from the late 1960s through 70s. He believed the American public would do anything to make fools of themselves on television and apparently he was right. His memoirs report that in 1981 he suffered a nervous breakdown caused by guilt over his choices in life. One of those choices, he says, involved working as a hired killer for the CIA in places like Helsinki and East Berlin under cover of a TV producer chaperoning show guests on their winning vacations.

The movie tediously cuts between his rise to television honcho with extensive real footage from his various shows, his sexual peccadilloes, relationship with girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore) who deserved sainthood for coping with this idiot and his less than heroic exploits in the service of his country. He was initiated into the CIA by Jim Byrd (George Clooney) who remained his handler until the bitter end. Julia Roberts and Rutger Hauer have smaller roles as agents. Special mention goes to Barrymore who does a good job in her role.

The biggest problem is Barris himself. Nothing in his personality nor in this screenplay would give anyone any reason to care about him – even if you did buy his overall story. The screenplay is all over the place, hopscotching through the years, playing off the period kitsch. I’m not even sure the filmmakers were committed to a particular point of view – it’s played for real sometimes; it’s played for laughs a lot of the times. Either way, it doesn’t work.

There is but one shining moment (literally) in the whole movie by featured actor Robert John Burke who plays “Instructor Jenks”. He’s a CIA trainer who’s brought in to convince the game show contestants to keep their comments family-friendly. The dialogue is hilarious and his facial expressions are priceless.

Lotta says pass on this one. It’s not worth your time or money. Rated R for for language, sexual content, nudity and violence.

Reviewed 1/24/03