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Ambitious, melancholy and not-entirely-successful.
on February 3, 2003
Director George Clooney's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is an interesting film, a somewhat melancholy take on the life of "Gong Show" creator Chuck Barris. Though the project is ambitious for a first-time director, the acting is good and the film's visual look is great, the tone of it struck me as uneven. It's not the fun, zany trip that I was expecting, with its opening echoing more "Sid and Nancy" than "The Dating Game." Given the subject of the film is Barris and his outrageous claim that he worked as a CIA assassin, should it be so dark and solemn?
Sam Rockwell's a talented actor. His work in film, verging from his wacky role in "Box of Moonlight" to his dancing-villain turn in "Charlie's Angels" of all things, is consistently different and fun to watch. His take on Barris, who meanders somewhere between goofy and emotionally damaged, is compelling yet still doesn't make Barris an accessible person to the audience.
The film suffers the same flaw as "Man on the Moon," which gave us two hours on the life of Andy Kaufman without letting us much find out about what motivated him. Though Barris is central to every scene, you can neither laugh at him nor particularly care about him. What drives him to get into television? Why would he make up the bit about the CIA assassin, if he did? If he did live as one, why do all the scenes involving his CIA work seem to scream 'plot device'?
One key into Barris' psyche is revealed toward the film's end, and it's a twisted, weird bit about his relationship with his mother. If it's true, and we are hinted that it might be, the revelation doesn't hit home the way it should because we know that half of Barris is telling us is a lie, so the audience isn't quite clear on what to believe.
Drew Barrymore's portrayal of Penny, Barris' chief girlfriend, is a delight. She's bright, always on and quirky, but the movie's tones are not always like that. I thought she was better than her material. And Julia Roberts and George Clooney provide little more than cameos, and their characters are so enigmatic, that plot so trivial, that they come off as one-note. (Still, Roberts does get the biggest laugh in the film.)
All in all, I was disappointed.