Sam Rockwell’s nude bottom is a character all its own in the film “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Based on major television figure Chuck Barris, Rockwell’s portrayal of the lead character balances intellectual quirkiness, the quest for women, and an unnerving lack of charm. In the 1970s, Barris wrote pop songs, dreamed up TV shows decorated with giant bubbly flowers and supposedly killed people for the CIA.
Creator of hits like “The Dating Game” and “The Gong Show,” Barris carries the blame for the decline of quality programming. But the reason he was so successful is that he created shows that the American people wanted to see. The humiliation of the performers in “The Gong Show” coupled with the disparity between intelligence and attractiveness shown in “The Dating Game” made for entertaining television that kept people in front of the tube on a Saturday night.
Back to Rockwell’s tush. The film opens with a naked Barris, standing in front of a television. Enthralled but oblivious, Barris remains in this position for multiple parts of the film while flashbacks interrupt the fading back to the bearded, unkempt man Barris has become.
Drew Barrymore (“Riding in Cars with Boys”) is wonderfully dim-witted as Penny, the love interest always giving Barris another chance. Constantly mixing with different circles of people while always pronouncing words wrong, she holds the most emotional, though often shallow, role in the film. Penny’s clothes indicate the time period well, though one dreads the inevitable launch into the fashions of the 1980s. Barrymore’s innocent part in the movie “The Wedding Singer” be damned; no woman looks good with that much gel in her hair.
Barrymore and Rockwell were coupled in a previous film, “Charlie’s Angels.” Unfortunately, the same lack of chemistry pervades here, along with another tragic game of Scrabble.
George Clooney’s directorial debut is promising. Performing in the film as Barris’ CIA contact Jim Byrd, Clooney (“Solaris”) manages to hold steady as the deadpan, emotionless character that does not “fit the profile” of an assassin. With all Clooney’s work on neat camera angles and movie-poster still shots, he forgets to give his character any kind of dimension. One spends most of the film just waiting for Byrd to blink.
And then there is Julia Roberts (“Full Frontal”). As Patricia, the leggy CIA operative, she provides some of the sparse comic relief in the film when she passionately licks Barris’ face. That’s right, licks. All over. Otherwise, she plays her standard woman-who-is-deeper-than-she-seems character, while somehow always being not much deeper than Barris’ girlfriend Penny, though decidedly more deadly.
Rockwell himself (“Welcome to Colinwood”), well, he is good at being a bad guy. Less charming than usual, he pulls off the part of a creepy guy that just wants some action, while killing people on the side. Little emotional depth of Barris, however, weakens the film. Rare glimpses into Barris’ psyche disturb, but beg to be duplicated. The question of how Barris feels consistently goes unanswered, and leaves a hole in the movie. His 1997 performance in the film “Lawn Dogs” proves that he is capable of more, but Clooney holds back Rockwell’s, and thus the movie’s, potential.
The bottom line of this review: “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” entertains, but every performer in the film has acted better. This is worth a viewing, though, if you want to brush up on your television history.