A camera slowly pans over a set of hands working feverishly at a typewriter, the low and scratchy voice of Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) echoes throughout the theater:
“My name is Charles Hirsch Barris. I have written pop songs, I have been a television producer.
In addition, I have murdered thirty-three human beings.”
Based on Barris’ 1982 “Unauthorized Autobiography,” Confessions of a Dangerous Mind tells how he quickly became one of the most controversial television personalities in history while leading a double-life as an assassin for the CIA.
Throughout the early part of his TV career, Barris created memorable shows such as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game.
A few years later, Barris landed the gig as host of his most famous creation, The Gong Show.
Barris quickly became a public scapegoat following the first airdate of The Gong Show.
People watched the show with disgust as not-so amateur acts attempted to gain 15 minutes of fame.
Parents and critics alike accused Barris of creating and promoting raunchy, suggestive and “trash” programming.
Directed by George Clooney, Confessions alleges that Barris was convinced by CIA agent Jim Byrd (Clooney) to pay Uncle Sam back by helping the CIA eliminate evildoers around the world.
Byrd’s proposal became even more tempting when he explained to Barris he had the perfect cover: game show host by day, CIA assassin by night.
The real fun of the movie isn’t trying to separate fact from fiction, but watching Rockwell pour himself into the role of “Chucky Baby” (a moniker given
to Barris by his friends).
Rockwell’s stunning performance is perfectly matched by Drew Barrymore’s bubbly and sincere portrayal of Barris’ on-and-off-again love interest Penny, while Julia Roberts slinks along as the seductive and sultry Patricia.
Clooney’s directorial debut brilliantly captures the complex yet wildly imaginative mind of Barris.
Though despised by critics for planting the early seeds of “trash TV,” Confessions proves that there’s always more than meets the eye.
The Dick Clark and Gong Show regulars like The Unknown Comic comment on Barris’ reputation as a womanizing, yet underrated television visionary.
Such commentary portrays Barris as deeper than people gave him credit for because he knew what his audience wanted.
His controversial charm put Barris’ hand on the pulse of public programming.
Perhaps that is why the shows he created became the forerunners of reality-based programs like Blind Date and The Bachelor.
Confessions did, however, hit a few speed bumps along the way.
Clooney’s lifeless, stiff-as-a-board performance lacks the same charisma and energy found in Ocean’s Eleven and Three Kings.
Thankfully, Clooney more than makes up for his disappointing acting with impressively sharp and edgy direction.
Whether it’s Rockwell shimmying and shaking alongside Gene Gene the Dancing Machine or tracking down bad guys in Berlin, Clooney makes sure to keep the guessing game going.
Barris refuses to shed light on his secret life to this day. It is a question that may never be answered.
Confessions puts all the pieces on the table and lets the audience decide for themselves.
Dustin Schoof can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org