Review: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

I am sure that everyone in America has tuned into day time TV and witnessed a rerun of The Dating Game or The Newlywed Game. And I am sure that most everyone has heard of The Gong Show. All three of these popular game shows were created by a man named Chuck Barris. While the success of these three shows would be enough to put Barris in the hall of TV pop culture past, his true reputation will lay in the realm of controversy. When Barris wrote his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he told the world that in addition to hosting a game show and producing two others, he was a freelance killer. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a faithful adaptation to Barris’ book by the same name. Thus, the film does not take an unbiased view to the events, and plays the events straight as though Barris was in fact the killer he says he was.

As you either know from previews, buzz, or the opening paragraph, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a film detailing the life of Chuck Barris. The film starts during his pre-teens, and winds up in 1981. As a young adult, Barris becomes infatuated with television, and goes to Los Angeles to pitch his game show, “The Dating Game.“ To his surprise, ABC gives Barris money to do a pilot. After a little bit of tinkering, ABC bites, and Chuck is living the dream. Right after having a one night stand, he is introduced to the girls’ room mate, Penny. Immediately the two are smitten with each other. Things are just starting to go right for Barris, when he is confronted by Jim Byrd after being beaten up during a bar fight. Byrd treats Barris to dinner, and tells him something no one ever expects to her, he says he is CIA, and he wants Barris to do some freelance...waste management. Soon, Byrd has Barris killing people while he is chaperoning Dating Game couples in pre-chosen vacation spots. On a job in Helsinki, Chuck meets his contact, the seductive Patricia, and falls head over heels. Soon, Chuck’s life is a mess. He is paranoid by an elusive mole killing off members of this killing ring, he wants to stop killing but he is addicted, and he loves Penny, but lusts after Patricia. The climax occurs when these two lives finally run into each other, and Chuck’s life is on the line.

Charlie Kaufman is an experienced screenwriter, as he has been nominated for Oscars for his two previous films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. He was destined for a fall, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is not a fall, but a stumble to be sure. If you go to see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, be prepared for a mix bag of both fantastic, memorable scenes, and ones that just do not fit. Charlie Kaufman wrote the characters of this film very well, and the scenes depicting the making of his shows, The Dating Game, and The Gong Show are brilliant. And I mean brilliant, these scenes are something to cherish. Yet the first half of the movie relies heavily on sex, and depicts Barris as a pervert. Whether he was one or not, you don’t make a film involving it if it isn’t the focus of the movie. Kaufman’s distinct wackiness is present (albeit, in small doses) in the movie, and while not bad at all, it just doesn’t seem right for a biopic. Then during the second half, we are subjected to the horror that is Julia Roberts. I don’t care how badly George Clooney wants a piece of her, or how cute it is that Clooney, Roberts and Soderbergh and formed a pertinacious little Hollywood clique, she was miss cast as the seductive Patricia. Like what we saw from Full Frontal earlier this year, Julia Roberts has become to “red carpet” to do art films. She never blends into the role, and instead sticks out like a soar thumb. Fortunately, she couldn’t give too terrible an after taste, as the role isn’t a very large one. Yet its the terribly written climactic scene that leaves the bad taste, as it turns a biopic into a run of the mill thriller.

Surprisingly enough, Kaufman is outdone by first time director George Clooney. As a director, George Clooney does show promise. As he shifts through scenes flawlessly, and his sense of music and sound is impeccable. Also outrageous and a credit to his direction are the killing scenes that are done with humor as to not depict Barris as a total monster. The time period of the movie in the 60’s and 70’s, and Clooney’s style for these time periods are dead on. To comment on the truth of the admission by Barris, Clooney has added snippets from interviews taken with Dick Clark and Gong Show panelist Jaye P. Morgan and others, and these snippets work wonders for the movie, they add a sense of storytelling to the picture.

Sam Rockwell who you probably know (or now know) was the villain from the first Charlie’s Angels, inhabits Chuck Barris’ skin flawlessly. As he is in every scene, he is the things from ever totally deteriorating. As the center of attention and the subject of the movie, he holds onto the spotlight, and never relinquishes it. Even when in competition with the overrated Julia Roberts. He is so strong, and presents a character filled with so much charisma that just the presence of him is enough to save some bad scenes, and the one's that even a great performance can't save are the one's that make this a 2.5 star film instead of a 3.5 or 4. The other solid performance is from Drew Barrymore, who has become a favorite actress of mine. She has an uncanny ability for picking prime roles. Charlie’s Angels shot her back onto the A-list, and movies that let her ooze effervescence like the role of Penny in this film keep her on the list. In contrast to his great start as director, George Clooney is disappointing as Jim Byrd, the man who gives Chuck his targets. He plays the role noticeably stodgy and causes problems as to the flow of the film when he is on screen. George Clooney was quoted as saying that he enjoyed acting more than directing. Well, I think if he had the best interests of the public in mind, he would start a career behind the scenes, especially as his last great performance in Ocean‘s 11 begins to fade from memory (and new release sections of the video store). The final entry to the roster is Julia Roberts, and if you have read my review thus far, you can pretty much tell where I stand on her and her performance.

For a biopic to be enjoyable for everyone it must reach out and grab every audience member. While Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is by no means a failure, it just doesn’t do that. For fans of Chuck Barris and The Gong Show, this movie will be highly anticipated and recommended to by me. However, for the general public, I can not make a claim that everyone will like it or find something admirable about it. For George Clooney, he makes a fantastic splash as a director, but fails in his performance. As for screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Confessions biopic genre proves not to be the writers forte. As for Sam Rockwell, he is amazing as Chuck Barris. And don’t even get me started on Julia Roberts.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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