Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by George Clooney
Written by Charlie Kaufman from the book by Chuck Barris
Starring Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts


Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Charlie Kaufman, who is the screenwriter du jour right now ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation") is back with another exercise in fragmented storytelling. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is the filmed version of confessed TV host/assassin Chuck Barris's autobiography, the man who created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and the Gong Show while - perhaps - blowing away thirty-seven supposed enemies of the United States, on assignments for the CIA in its spy war against the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s.

Whether or not we believe his story, the film, which was directed by George Clooney in a mostly very good first effort, has an insurmountable obstacle standing front and center: the lead actor. Sam Rockwell plays Barris, and to say he is miscast is to put a charming curtain over his work here. He is worse in this part than an untalented high school sophomore would be playing King Lear. He has no sense of his character, no ability to play a scene without acting like a maniac; he races through the film as though afraid the story will catch up with him if he ever stops. Where is the villain of "The Green Mile," the dreamy boat captain of "Charlie's Angels"? He did those well, but here he is completely out of his depth.

If we try to peek around Rockwell and understand the film, we find a strange brew. It's as though Kaufman the screenwriter has begun to believe his notices and decided that anything goes as long as he keeps things moving. In this film Barris is a man more committed to living for sex than both Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe put together in last year's "Auto Focus." But even though we get hints of the causes of his satyriasis - his mother dressed him as a girl, her husband was not his father, etc. - they're just dropped into the film like little turds.

All around Rockwell are some very good, experienced actors, who do a very competent job dealing with a whole trove of MacGuffins: Clooney plays his mysterious CIA recruiter. Drew Barrymore is the long-suffering girlfriend whom he won't commit to. Julia Roberts is the agent who may be a mole. But as flashy as the film is, what sticks with us afterwards is the reimagining of Barris's real-life television shows. They're fun to watch. The rest, well, the rest is best forgotten.