A review of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for sex, language, violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

 

 

Sam Rockwell is cleanly cast as “The Gong Show” host and alleged CIA hit-man Chuck Barris, in George Clooney’s dilettantish directorial debut that’s based on Barris’ autobiographical account of his capricious double-faced lifestyle.

The truth according to Barris is that he was successfully dumbing-down America with such cultural pearls as “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game” (precursors to the voyeuristic reality TV of late) at the same time that he was dabbling in dangerous CIA espionage (think Russell Crowe’s John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind”), pulling off complicated assassinations with shyster-ish aplomb.

Whatever you say, Chuck.  The pleasure of Clooney’s facile snow job is that it peddles skepticism while offering up narrative absurdities so fanciful that they must be true.  Told in an annoying flashback style by the shell-of-his-former-huckster-self Barris, the film combines Barris’ cheesy television antics and always-the-bridesmaid insecurities with a delicious spy game of silent hits, cloak-and-dagger trysting (with the likes of  glamorous she-spy Julia Roberts), and exotic locales (Helsinki, anyone?).

“Confessions” primary problem is that it’s not quite enough.  Not quite clever enough, almost but not quite witty enough, and not convincing enough to render it a blue-ribbon story mired in murky, entertaining fact. The black comedy aspect of the project delivers it from an up-close-and-personal analysis that would surely be the project’s undoing.

The inevitable comparison to Paul Schrader’s “Auto Focus” (chronicling the rise and fall of sexual addict and “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane) hurts. Schrader crafted a darker film with a more lasting impact. Though Rockwell turns in a nearly stunning performance (the guy’s been poised on the brink of superstardom for nearly a decade), he ultimately cannot overcome the film’s small, inherent flaws.