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Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore
Director: George Clooney
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Fred Savage, Chuck Barris

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

With President Bush's authorization for the C.I.A. to get back into the killing game, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," set in the 1960's, is brought right up to date. Spies, moles and assassinations are just one part of Charlie Kaufman's complex plot which takes on the idiocy of the boob tube by highlighting what are arguable the stupidest shows to be appear on afternoon television, meshing the media mash into cloak-and-dagger doings if not seamlessly, at least imaginatively. Wildly so. Kaufman, whose "Adaptation" opened during the same month as "Confessions," comes off as the most imaginative screenwriter of the year and offers evidence that in some cases, the often unappreciated scripter is more central to the realization of a movie than the director.

Kaufman's aforementioned "Adaptation" deals with a folding of two widely disparate themes into an organic whole, juxtaposing a neurotic writer who invents a more aggressive, sociable and practical twin brother with a woman whose obsession is orchids. Experimenting now with dual worlds of game show TV and serious espionage in Eastern Europe, Berlin and Helsinki, Kaufman does not quite pull off the same coup as he did in the movie starring Nic Cage. Nonetheless just as he scored by seducing Nicolas Cage into the dual role in "Adaptation," whe could not have done better than his choice of Sam Rockwell ("Heist," "Galaxy Quest," "Charlie's Angels") performing in the role of Chuck Barris whose oddball autobioraphy is adapted for the screen with all the colors, surrealism and fantasies that remind us of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."

In fact you may think of Naomi Campbell's freak-out scene in the Lynch movie as you watch Barris, locked in a hotel room with a one month's growth of hair on his face, pondering what he now considers the waste of his life as both a TV producer and C.I.A. operative. Flashing back, George Clooney in his debut as a director takes us to the world of Mr. Barris, who has written songs and books and who is best known to the widest audience for producing some of the trashiest shoes ever to appear on TV. Of the three principal entertainments, "The Dating Game" seemed to me when I was growing up in the early days of the medium to be the most conservative, focusing on a young female contestant whose role is to ask questions of three young men hidden by a screen, winning a date with the lucky guy who answers them to her satisfaction. "The Newlywed Game" followed, leading up to the mean-spirited "The Gong Show," which allowed some of society's losers to strut their "talents" before a live audience and millions of TV fans throughout the nation only to be booed and humiliated by the masses who loved to see people who were less cool than they.

In the midst of his TV career, or so he says in this adapted autobiography, Barris is recruited as an independent contractor by the sinister, mustachioed Agent Jim Byrd, who figures that Barris could chaperone the lucky dates to ports in Europe, thus providing cover for him to carry out assassinations of people "the U.S. does not like." While giving new meaning to the term "hit show," Chuck reluctantly agrees, and is seen by us in the movie audience carrying out a few executions. As he gets deeper into his two professions hit man for the government and hit show producer for the television public at large he becomes increasingly paranoid, learning that a mole in the C.I.A. is out to kill him--and increasingly disgusted with himself for turning out the trash that he does. Doubting that he has done anything worthwhile with his life, he ends up wishing that he had led a more normal life with his loving girlfriend (played by the always adorable Drew Barrymore who displays all the chemistry needed for the role) rather than mixing himself up with the likes of the sinister spy Patricia (Julia Roberts) who may or may not be the treacherous mole.

Though "Confessions" is a dark comedy, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rutger Hauer and others are having lots of fun in side roles and cameos, but Sam Rockwell is the standout, mugging so shamelessly for the camera that we know every second what he's thinking. Director Clooney and scripter Kaufman give the audience lots to do as well, encouraging us to puzzle out which aspects of the Barris "non-authorized autobiography" are figments of the producer's Walter Mitty imagination and which are real events in his life. Ultimately the picture is not as much fun as "Adaptation," sometimes tending toward the opaque, but is a fitting followup to Paul Schrader's exploration of the sordid life of Bob Crane in "Auto-Focus."

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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