Inspired by the outlandish memoirs of the man who created the likes of “The Dating Game” and “The Gong Show,” George Clooney’s directorial debut confesses the life story of Chuck Barris. TV show producer by day, CIA operative in his spare time, Barris claims to have led a life that only someone with a mind crazy enough to conjure “The Newlywed Game” could have lived. With the help of Sam Rockwell’s (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) impressive portrayal of Barris and the writing of Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation”), Clooney has taken the cult-status autobiography and constructed an imaginative and highly stylized “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Miramax
Clooney takes his first stab behind the camera, but steals some of the scenes as a CIA operative.

Opening on a nude and disheveled Barris, the film begins by looking back on how his life became an enveloping force withering continually further from his control. His penchant for success arose more from his coital pangs than any true self-actualization driving force. As soon as he realized the sexual draw of being a person with power and fame, he made his way into the world of television. Moving up the rankings and finding many interludes of intercourse along the way, he eventually works his way into the executive offices to pitch “The Dating Game” and into the panties of a sexually free and mentally aloof Penny (Drew Barrymore).

All the while, Barris also held a pejorative propensity for bar brawls, which led him into the guiding light of omnipresent and omniscient CIA man Jim Byrd (Clooney). Byrd offers him training and an independent operative position under his direction, and Barris willingly accepts. Learning over 30 different ways to kill a man, Barris displays his prodigy-like talent and is given a mission almost immediately. Running under the cover of a chaperone for the winners on “The Dating Game,” he makes his way around the world on assassination orders and meets shady cooperatives like Keeler (Rutger Hauer) and the stunning Patricia (Julia Roberts). Soon, his life becomes a dizzying confusion of hidden identity, corruption and indeterminism where, as always, nothing is for certain.

Obviously influenced by his numerous collaborations in acting for Steven Soderbergh, Clooney’s freshman effort hints at Soderbergh’s style but allows enough room to show off some of his own ingenuity. Playing with colors, angles and stylish sets shows his directorial sense, although the film sometimes lacks a controlling tone due to the muddle of techniques he manages to dabble in. While commanding some bright performances from the mass of talented actors at his disposal, his real triumph exudes through the constantly-flowing intrigue and deepening chaos of the film’s construction.

The recreations of Barris’ shows are impeccable in their exactness. How Clooney portrays them in the film make them stand out as the torch-passing influences for today’s lowbrow reality television. Rockwell’s skillful underplaying of Barris make his character all the more compelling as the distraught founder of these institutions that flaunted the inane desires of the American public.

Every performance in “Confessions” is what you’d expect from the high-caliber portfolio of the ensemble. Clooney’s supporting role as Byrd almost outshines the rest of the cast, but no lack of passion can be found in Roberts or the deeply philosophical acting by Hauer. Somewhat surprisingly, Barrymore’s ditzy hippie-girl portrayal may actually be the most refreshing of her career and one of the best in the film. Plus, in the manner of Soderbergh, quite a few drop-in cameos by Clooney’s past cohorts add a number of chuckles, and the nonchalant introductions of the main players have satisfying fulfillments in their respective exits.

Aided by a hit list soundtrack, front loaded by The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” delves into the claims of Charles Barris and doesn’t hold back. At times, it lags in pacing and often ventures between comedy, drama and action without any clear direction, but Clooney always manages to pull it back into place as an ethereal depiction of a man uncertain of his own purpose and desires.

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