The very last US release of 2002, smacked at the year-end’s rear-end into a few LA and NYC theaters on the 31st of December, only now is it reaching Montréal. You’d think they would have premiered here, in the city where the film was shot; so many local folks (my buddy Johnny Dee Master Magician included) worked on the film that it could qualify as a Canadian picture! There was plenty of buzz around the movie: it’s the directorial debut of George Clooney, it stars Sam Rockwell in supposedly a star-making turn and it’s the third 2002 film to come from screenwriting sensation Charlie Kaufman (after “Human Nature” and Adaptation). Unfortunately, while these three men and their work usually have their charm, little of it can be felt in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”.
An adaptation of Chuck Barris’ “unauthorized autobiography”, the film skips around the story of the TV producer who gave the world shows like “The Dating Game”, “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show”. Making such a mark in pop culture might no be “up there with the Sistine Chapel ceiling”, but was it really the beginning of the end of civilisation as some critics wrote? In any case Barris himself believed enough of it for his self-loathing tendencies to increase even more. A wreck of a man, when came the time to write his memoir he incorporated a double life as a CIA hitman who went around the world to murder enemies of America. But is that fantasy supposed to make him feel more noble, patriotic, or is it just more symptoms of his amoral, painful soul-searching?
There’s a fascinating story there, and maybe on paper Charlie Kaufman’s script is as great as one might expect from the writer of Being John Malkovich, but you wouldn’t know from watching the film. George Clooney is really busy honing his style, but every use of saturated film stock, every overworked shot composition, it all screams “FIRST MOVIE!” Like your average Scorsese-wannabe, poseur-hip film school nerd, Clooney feels the need to drown every scene in masturbatory visual tricks, forgetting that if you don’t care about the story, chances are the audience won’t either.
For all its flashiness, Clooney’s movie is surprisingly lifeless. You never quite get where it’s going or what it’s trying to do. Is it an irreverent comedy, but without laughs? Or an espionage thriller without thrills? It even goes for a romantic angle, which works as much as Drew Barrymore can be adorable as Barris’ girlfriend, but the film seems to forget her for long stretches and when it finally goes back to her it feels like an half-assed effort. Actually, the whole film feels like that, as if both the game-show-creator and CIA-agent storylines were afterthoughts. There is a bunch of narration brought in to hold the pieces together, but “Confessions” still fails to be cohesive thematically.
Maybe if Sam Rockwell was as electrifying as Barris as he’s been praised to be the film wouldn’t be so uninvolving, but while he’s amusing enough at times, in the end it’s kind of a superficial performance not very different from what you’d expect from Chris Parnell in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, but with a lot of butt shots. Clooney gave himself a part as a CIA operative, but apparently he was so preoccupied with his work behind the camera that he forgot to switch on his charisma when he stepped in front of it. Then you’ve got Julia Roberts, utterly miscast as a femme fatale, countless caricatural supporting characters and appearances by Dick Clark, the Unknown Comic and even Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos. Yet beside Barrymore and, to a degree, Rockwell, no one makes much of an impression. Neither does “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”.