Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

"Jesus Christ was dead and alive again by 33; you'd better get crackin'."

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind marks George Clooney’s behind-the-camera debut, and my advice for his next directorial effort would be to settle down, sit down, and think long and hard about what he is putting on the screen. Get organized. The film, from a script by current Hollywood It-boy Charlie Kaufman, throws out so much and so quickly that the hit-to-miss ratio is rather poor. There are so many disparate elements here that the majority of them remain skeletal and uninteresting. It aspires to be something like Auto Focus meets A Beautiful Mind, but comes up empty.

This is a seriously fictionalized biography of Chuck Barris, the creator of such television mainstays as “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show”. Aside from being lambasted by all facets of the media for dumbing down American pop culture (ha!), he also reportedly claimed to be a CIA operative, was a sex fiend and a deeply insecure man who spent his entire life fretting over what he hasn’t accomplished, futilely trying to boost his self-esteem through material accomplishments.

Here, he is played by Sam Rockwell, a popular indie actor probably best known to mainstream audiences as the villain in Charlie’s Angels. Drew Barrymore plays his faithful girlfriend Penny, who tolerates his rampant affairs in the hope that he will someday deign to marry her. Chuck receives a visit from a shady guy named Jim Byrd (Clooney), who introduces himself as a CIA agent and recruits Chuck to be a professional assassin. After a time, when “The Dating Game” unexpectedly takes off, he winds up chaperoning the lucky winners to wherever his next assignment might be: exotic locales like Austria and West Berlin.

The proceedings are framed by the sight of Barris as a slightly older man who has locked himself in a hotel room, stripped to his birthday suit and started to brood over his life’s achievements, or lack thereof. Kaufman and Clooney leave it to us to determine whether or not Barris was ever actually affiliated with the CIA or whether he simply invented his adventures to add some spice to what he saw as a meaningless existence.

The movie is everything but the kitchen sink, though I think the kitchen sink may have flown across the screen at some point. I mentioned Auto Focus; this is like Auto Focus on methamphetamines, attempting to chronicle not only Barris’s rise and downfall, but also his childhood, his fantasies, his relationships, his obsessions, his inner demons. Now, a good biopic will do exactly that, but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind strains and frenetically jumps around from subject to subject and time period to time period. It’s not a confusing experience, and praise be to Clooney for keeping a degree of lucidity even while twisting the storyline into Gordian knots, but it is exhausting to the point where I wanted to throw my hands up and yell “No more!”

In the end, all of the hullabaloo doesn’t add up to much. This is easily Kaufman’s most facile screenplay to date, with a grating brand of dark comedy that expects us to laugh at bizarre depravity for its own sake, and a tone that effectively prevents us from feeling any sympathy whatsoever for its subject. Barris, as portrayed in this movie, irritated me more than anything else; at least the ever-dispassionate Schrader, along with the terrific Greg Kinnear, made us feel pity for the poor sap in Auto Focus. I couldn’t have cared less about Barris.

Sam Rockwell is already getting hosannas for his role as the dangerous mind in question. I dunno. His performance is technically proficient, I suppose, as there isn’t anything wrong with the mechanics of his portrayal, but the script doesn’t have a soul, and neither does he. His work is admirable in the context of the screenwriting, but it fails to rise above the material.

Clooney has a flair for distinctive visuals, and his palette is alternately high-contrast, pastel-hued and drained of color altogether. As a formidable Hollywood powerhouse, he has the clout to make pretty much whatever he wants to. C’mon, George. Sit down. Settle down. Get organized.

-- Eugene Novikov

One Comment

  1. me says:

    yep, blather it is.

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