There's never been a celebrity autobiography quite like Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, Chuck Barris' self-lacerating account of his fictional career as a CIA hitman and his real-life role creating The Gong Show, The Newlywed Game, and The Dating Game. The book's juxtaposition of cold-blooded international intrigue and televised tackiness might suggest wild comedy, but Barris played it relatively straight, and the result was the sort of dark, neurotic, self-loathing tome Philip Roth might have written if his colleagues had included Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine, Rip Taylor, and The Unknown Comic. Barris' tall tale finds an ideal adapter in screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who shares Barris' TV background, neuroses, absurdist take on the emptiness of celebrity, and penchant for postmodern chicanery and sexual humiliation. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind was originally scheduled to star Johnny Depp and be directed by Bryan Singer, but after its financing fell through, co-star George Clooney took over directing duties, and character actor Sam Rockwell took over for Depp. Clooney proves an able if occasionally heavy-handed first-time director, but once again, Kaufman's authorial voice dominates. Opening with its protagonist naked, distraught, and teetering on the brink of sanity, Confessions then skips back and forth in time to capture Rockwell's unlikely ascent from horny upstart to fledgling television producer to paranoid, selfish trash-TV titan. Clooney co-stars as Rockwell's contact at the CIA—perhaps the only entity more sinister than network television—while Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore play a mysterious agency femme fatale and Barris' spacey, long-suffering girlfriend, respectively. Typecast to perfection, Barrymore is touching and tender as Rockwell's last hope for salvation, but Roberts is sorely miscast, a flaw Clooney exacerbates by filming her in a way that never lets the audience forget that she's a huge movie star. As a director, Clooney tends to underline jokes and themes best left implicit, but he's also adept at capturing the heart of darkness at the center of his source material. Like Auto Focus, which it eerily parallels, Confessions exposes the needy, perpetually churning id bubbling underneath television's banality. There's a crucial difference in perspective, however: Auto Focus had the icky feel of a condemnation, while Confessions has the bracing intimacy and emotional nakedness of an after-midnight confession.
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