Dangerous’ Delight/ Clooney directs witty Barris memoir
According to the self-inflated gospel of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” game show impresario Chuck Barris hatched the idea for the “The Newlywed Game” right around the time the CIA was training him how to torture enemy agents with a disassembled telephone.
If we believed it for a second, we wouldn’t be laughing. Based on Barris’ cult memoir of the same name, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is a hilariously perverse marriage of fact and fiction that strikes a wholly unique comic tenor: prankish and cryptic, yet oddly sincere. Directed with wit and ingenuity by George Clooney, it’s an irresistible post-modern put-on about a man at the mercy of his own imagination.
If this all sounds suspiciously like the work of literary madman Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation,” “Being John Malkovich”), know that Kaufman did indeed write the screenplay. It’s a perfect match, actually. Who better than Kaufman to adapt a largely falsified autobiography teeming with themes of self-loathing and inadequacy?
The story tracks Barris from his humble beginnings as a hungry young producer caught up in the land-rush mentality of ’60s network television to his success with “The Dating Game” and “The Gong Show” to his alleged misadventures as a globe-trotting CIA hit man. Ultimately, Barris winds up in a fleabag motel, ashamed of his lowbrow television legacy and numerous marital infidelities, contemplating the memoirs that will become this movie.
Barris is brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell, an affable and somewhat punchy comic actor best known for his first-rate supporting work: the doomed crewman in “Galaxy Quest”; the grotesque death row inmate in “The Green Mile”; Drew Barrymore’s villainous beau in “Charlie’s Angels.” Rockwell strikes a perfect balance of brains and buffoonery in the role, and his impersonation of Barris’ shuffling, hat-tipping “Gong Show” persona is dead on.
Clooney, making his feature directorial debut, seems to have pillaged a few tricks from frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s 11,” “Solaris”) – namely, a penchant for moody lighting concepts and long, painterly takes. He’s also borrowed some actors, employing “Ocean’s 11” co-stars Matt Damon and Brad Pitt in a brief but absolutely side-splitting dual cameo. Another Soderbergh veteran, Julia Roberts is a seductive delight as Patricia, a fellow agent who engages Barris in sexy repartee while on assignment in Europe.
Drew Barrymore rounds out the love-in as Penny, Barris’ long- suffering but upbeat wife and the one anchor of reality in his life. Traditionally, the best thing you can say about Barrymore as an actress is that she clearly enjoys what she does, but under Clooney’s direction the one-time child star suddenly discovers gravity. She turns in some fine work.
In an information-fueled world where facts are fungible and whole empires can teeter on a single key stroke, Barris’ willingness to distort the details of his own life surely will find a receptive audience.
The only problem with “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is that it takes itself a bit too seriously. Barris spends much of the movie trying to outfox not only enemy assassins, but Clooney and Kaufman’s attempts to enshrine him as the great tragic hero of modern pop culture, on par with Oscar Wilde and Lenny Bruce.
Given that this is a guy who achieved fame by asking America where it likes to make whoopie, the pathos gets the gong.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
STARRING: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts DIRECTOR: George Clooney PLAYING AT: Cinemark, Tinseltown, Carmike, Chapel Hills RATED: R (language, sexual content and violence) RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
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