Many of us dreamed of being Hollywood bigwigs — TV or movie stars. Others of us desired wholeheartedly to be secret agents. Sam Rockwell is a movie star who expertly portrayed Chuck Barris, a TV star, who in turn, is actually a secret agent. Sounds like quite the life, doesn’t it? On top of that, Barris sleeps with women portrayed by Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore.
The screenplay for this film was written by Charlie Kaufman and the film was directed by George Clooney. In fact, it was Clooney’s directorial debut — and a good one at that. That’s not to say he’s perfect. I mean, some of the cinematic effects were a little too busy for their own good.
Generally, he’s on target with what he does, but he stumbles a bit by trying to cram in a few too many directorial tricks.
Let me put it this way — it’s substantially better than most of the films coming out today, but after Clooney has a couple more films under his belt, we’ll all be able to appreciate how far he will have come. It is obvious from this film that he’s got a knack for directing.
The film tells the story of Chuck Barris, the oft-demonized creator of “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show,” which he also hosted. His story effectively begins as a tour guide at a television station, where he switches over to the management fast track and is promptly fired.
He is then approached by Jim Byrd — Clooney — who explains to him that he fits the profile of a CIA operative. He is offered a job, not as an agent, but as an independently contracted killer. Having nothing to lose, he accepts, and is off to training.
Then our story begins. Barris begins doing some work for the government to kill time while he awaits his big break. He comes back from one mission to discover that the network wants to produce his show, “The Dating Game.”
We are then treated to a series of clips from the original unaired episodes of the dating game. As it turns out, live television focused on dating had a tendency to get a bit risqu. Barris had to remake at his own expense several episodes of the show and scare the contestants into biting their tongues on the air.
All is going well in Barris’ world until the network wants to make “The Dating Game” a prime time show. As the first ever prime time game show, it would have to be exciting and different from the daytime version in order to draw in viewers.
Barris is completely stumped, until Byrd, trying to draw Barris back into the secret agent game, suggests that the winners on “The Dating Game” get all-expenses-paid trips to exotic locations. Locations such as Helsinki and West Berlin. Of course, the show would have to send a chaperone, and if Barris was the chaperone, who would it hurt for him to do a little government business while he was there?
With both Barris and Byrd’s dilemmas solved, things are looking good. Barris has a talent for figuring out what people want to watch on TV, and makes a couple of other big hits — “The Newlywed Game” and “Operation Entertainment.”
All the while, we are learning about some of Barris’s bigger problems. For instance, fidelity.
While he is all but legally married to Penny — Barrymore — he is still spending his out of town vacations sowing his wild oats with Patricia — Roberts.
Roberts steps a bit out of her normal character — female lead in a romantic comedy — and the change seems to suit her well. While it is jarring at first to see her as a sexy secret agent, she pulls it off well.
The central intrigue of the film is that the CIA has a mole. Someone inside the organization is killing agents off left and right, and Barris seems to be next on the list. This intrigue is set against the backdrop of Barris’ newest TV sensation, “The Gong Show.”
“The Gong Show” is a mock talent show, in which untalented performers come out and do their bit until the celebrity judges end the act by “gonging” them.
Barris is probably the only man in history whose method of laying low starts with becoming a high profile game show host.
Clooney excellently directs the two parallel plots, and somehow makes it possible to think, just for a second, that maybe this whole thing really is a true story. And that takes a lot of talent.
The BookI picked up a copy of Chuck Barris’s “unauthorized” autobiography shortly after seeing the film. Let me first say that the film is more than slightly more believable than the book.
As is to be expected, the book tells the same story as the movie, in much greater depth. Despite the detail, Barris — as is to be expected from the type of TV shows he produced — is a crowd pleaser, and the book should appeal even to people who are not usually big readers.
Barris chronicles his own life in what seems to be an honest, self-deprecating manner. This is a man who made his livelihood putting average, everyday people on television, and he wrote a book claiming to have had one of the most extraordinary lives imaginable.
His story begins with CIA operative Jim Byrd contacting him and interrogating him about his personal history. These questions lead to a seeming digression about Julie Candaleri, a girl that he labels a cocktease, who he followed to Pittsburgh. This leads to a dead-end for the relationship and his career.
One of the differences between the book and the film is the amount of focus he puts on his personal life. The movie basically covers his two jobs and his sexual exploits. The book, on the other hand, seems to be more of a retrospective of his personal life that merely includes the professional life to give context for the more important personal events.His writing style flows well, and goes by quickly. I read the whole book in one day.
The honesty of Barris’ confessions about his shortcomings makes the utterly unbelievable story of intrigue and espionage seem more real.
So if you are looking for a fun, good read, consider picking up “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”
Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.