Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

I loved the Gong Show when I was a kid.  I dreamed of being a contestant.  I was positive that I could make it to the end of my number without being gonged by Jamie Farr or Jaye P. Morgan.  I thought it would be cool to hang out with Chuck Barris.  I would get to see the Unknown Comic without the bag on his head (I was actually kind of scared of that guy), and I'd get to dance at the end of the show with Chuck and Gene Gene the Dancing machine.  After watching Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the Barris autobiography of the same name, I'm not sure whether it would have been a good thing or a bad thing if that dream had come true.

Barris is a weirder guy than I had ever imagined.  In addition to being the creator of The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show, he was also a C.I.A. Assassin who capped 33 people.  At least according to his life story that has been penned into a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman.  But unlike Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Kaufman is not the off the wall author here.  It would take someone like Kaufman to turn it into a movie but Confessions was written by Barris.  

The story basically consists of the many failures suffered by Barris during his quest to create game shows for the common man.    In a very real way, we have Barris to thank for shows like American Idol and Joe Millionaire.  Amid all of his failure, he is offered the opportunity to train and become an assassin for the C.I.A.  In the unreal world of television, this will be the way that Barris anchors himself in reality.  Or is it the other way around?  

The actors in the film are all excellent but Sam Rockwell (The villain in the Charlie's Angels movie) is outstanding as Chuck Barris.  They don't do anything to make him look like Barris, but by mimicking his movements, expressions, and voice Sam Rockwell actually becomes Chuck Barris.  It only takes a few minutes for you to forget that he isn't Barris.  It's freaky.  George Clooney plays his shadowy  C.I.A. recruiter and handler.  He also directed the film as his first project behind the camera.  Drew Barrymore (Rockwell's love interest in Angels), does a fine job as the faithful and loving girlfriend whom Barris can always depend on and Julia Roberts, though I hate her, is fine as the fellow secret agent / lover when Barris is "on assignment."

In the style of a documentary, regulars from the Barris created game shows offer testimonials throughout the film.  Jaye P. Morgan gives her opinion of Barris as well as Dick Clark, Bob Eubanks, the now legless (?) George Randolph (Gene Gene The Dancing Machine) and a host of other actors, friends and producers.  Keep an eye open during the Dating Game sequence when one of the bachelorettes chooses bachelor #3 instead of #1 Brad Pitt and #2 Matt Damon.  

Barris will not comment on the veracity of his tale but that's what makes it so fun.  Chuck Barris is real.  The Gong Show is real.  And I'm sure I remember people on the Newlywed game and the Dating game winning trips to weird places like Helsinki.  This is a great movie and I really liked it more than I expected.  Hey, I even made it to the end of the review without being Gonged!


Bizarre Coincidence:  Chuck Barris and I both used the exact same joke when we called our fictional autobiographies "unauthorized".  I thought I was so clever when I thought that up a few years ago.  Now I'm a little disconcerted that Barris and I are at times apparently on the same wave length.