146 – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Some of you out there will undoubtedly recall The Gong Show, that harbinger of wacky reality-TV shows that appeared in the seventies. Others will remember such earlier game show gems as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. The same guy was responsible for all three: Chuck Barris.

This film is based on Barris’s “unauthorized autobiography” of the same name. In it, he details his rise to and fall from fame and fortune. That in and of itself would make the movie no different than any other bio-pic. But the hook in Barris’s book is that he was a deep, deep undercover CIA agent during the time he was running these game shows.

Now, we don’t know if that last part is factually accurate. It’s not as if we can ask the CIA if Chucky worked for them way back when. If he did, they’d never tell us. If he didn’t, they’d never tell us. (I think it’s unlikely, but who knows?)

But happily for all of us, one doesn’t have to completely buy into the notion that this actually happened. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, so you either remain skeptical of the CIA angle or go with the flow. Either way, the story entertains.

Barris is very well played by Sam Rockwell. The guy looks and behaves exactly like Barris did back in the day. Rockwell is very appealing, offering a genuine, accurate portrait of the impresario. On the other hand, Drew Barrymore plays his paramour, Penny. Barrymore has never been and never will be the finest of actresses, but she did turn in satisfactory work here. (Of course, if you remember your grade school days, “satisfactory” wasn’t necessarily a good thing.) Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that every character Barrymore plays nowadays comes off as annoying and not particularly useful. Either the characters are just plain annoying as written, or they’re fairly one-dimensional until Barrymore adds her special brand of annoyingness to them. Either way, the film doesn’t exactly light up when she’s onscreen. At times, her line delivery is really awful, as if she’d never bothered to learn the craft of acting. It just seems at times that she’s still playing off – perhaps subconsciously – the “cute little girl” persona she enjoyed as a child.

George Clooney directed this, his first such foray, and he gave himself a rather plum role as Jim Byrd, the CIA agent who recruits Barris to do dirty work. It’s a good role, but Clooney tries so hard to underplay it – thus ensuring that he doesn’t steal a scene from the lesser-known Rockwell – that often you can barely hear what he’s saying! I should never have to turn the volume up to hear someone speak, only to have to turn it back down when someone else has a line.

Several of Clooney’s movie star pals show up, most in small roles. Julie Roberts has a rather substantial role as a fellow agent, and she does a pretty good job. Like Clooney, she doesn’t overplay her part; she interacts neatly with Rockwell, and they have very good chemistry together.

The story itself moves along pretty well, and the nostalgics out there will be pleased to know that some people from the era show up as themselves, such as Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan, and Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. These people show up in interviews during the movie itself, which was jarring at times (that is, after an action scene you’d suddenly see one of these luminaries talking about Chuck Barris the person and discussing whether he really did work for the CIA).

To sum up: intriguing storyline, excellent lead performance, decent if not particularly noteworthy supporting performances, and good direction. On the negative side, the pace was sometimes choppy – too slow at times.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: **1/2


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