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Confessions of a Deranged Mind

Clooney’s Directorial Debut as Dopey as its Subject Matter

By Jed Horne

Staff Writer

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Written by Charlie Kaufman

Directed by George Clooney

Starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, and George Clooney

Rated R

What do you do if you’re middle-aged, unhappy, and your legacy is the sum total of two mediocre TV shows hailed not for their vision but for being the death of the medium?

Chuck Barris, apparently, secured his ticket to posteriority by alleging in his memoirs that he was a contract hitman with the CIA. Not to be outdone, George Clooney, tired of acting in lousy remakes of movies from the 1960s, shifted to directing a movie about lousy TV shows from the 1970s. The results are predictable: a sophomoric new-wave period piece with occasional flashes of flair that provide intermittent entertainment but are ultimately as empty as the subject matter they pretend to illuminate.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a liberal adaptation of Barris’ memoirs, chronicling his rise from deserved mediocrity to contract killer to infamous TV producer of The Dating Game and The Gong Show, widely considered the nadir of American television entertainment. Sam Rockwell (Welcome to Collinwood) plays Barris -- a smirking asshole from Philadelphia who has about as much difficulty selling his program ideas as he does keeping his pants on.

His career wallows in the toilet until he’s offered a job by CIA operative Jim Byrd (George Clooney). Inexplicably, his shows take off at the same time, and Chuck is left juggling his co-dependent girlfriend (Drew Barrymore) and the woman-of-mystery from his alter ego’s life (Julia Roberts).

Why anyone would take this seriously is beyond me, but despite trying his damndest to pretend not to, Clooney can’t seem to get over this idiot’s foibles and insecurities. The real problem is that the “two lives” theme only works if there are really two lives to work with. In this case, one is probably imaginary, and the other is remarkably pedestrian -- some schmuck who can only succeed by making an ass of himself who doesn’t recognize that true love is right under his nose. Who cares?

Given what they have to work with, the actors do admirable jobs. Sam Rockwell is remarkably skilled at looking stupid and being a jerk, and Drew Barrymore (her vixen days over, alas) plays the infinitely forgiving enabler as well as anyone could. Julia Roberts and George Clooney, not my favorite actors, are given blissfully little screen time to ruin. Charlie Kaufman, who everyone assumed was brilliant after Being John Malkovich, has revealed himself to be mortal after scripting this movie and the admittedly even worse Adaptation, which came out late last year.

Unless you’re a member of the secret cult of Chuck Barris fans that actually read the book, the chief draw of this film is the cinematography, a hallucinatory montage of now clichÉ overexposed and off-center shots. Like most hallucinations, however, they prove uneven and unreliable. Fault Clooney’s directorial inexperience if you want, but you can’t make a movie out of gimmicky editing and tricky camera work -- an unfortunate oversight of too many stinkers in recent memory. But, to be fair, some of it works pretty well, including faux-documentary interviews with Dick Clark and the real Chuck Barris.

If pressed to find a high point to Confessions, I would probably point to its inadvertent success at taking ’70s and ’80s nostalgia to task, revealing the true spirit of the era to be a mixture of narcissism, delusion, and self-pity. Judging by the continued appeal of kitschy retro garbage like Night Rider lunch boxes and Ninja Turtle t-shirts, that’s a lesson worth learning. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.