Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
starring Sam Rockwell and George Clooney
3 stars

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is one of those movies that, when somebody asks how it was, you say "interesting." You don't know if it's actually *good*, if you really *liked* it... but at the same time, there's some damn good stuff in there worth thinking about.

There are a lot of reasons to be interested in Confessions of A Dangerous Mind; let's tick them off.

First, it's written by screenwriting wunderman Charlie Kauffman, better known for writing Being John Malkovitch, barely known at all for writing Human Nature, and getting pretty known for writing Adaptation. Kauffman scripts tend to have a sharp, off-kilter sense of humor, a probing willingness to deal with outlandish concepts, and a solid grounding in the human heart. As far as any writer can be a star in Hollywood, he's it.

Second, it's directed by George Clooney. I don't know about you guys, but I love George Clooney. Not only did he rock in Three Kings and Out of Sight, not only has he been expertly balancing popcorn-fun like Ocean's Eleven with out-there risky stuff like Solaris, and not only is he the only guy out there who even comes close in charisma and charm to those old movie types like Cary Grant -- but he even played Bruce Wayne in Batman and Robin, and then had the decency to apologize for making such a sucky movie -- *even though he was one of the only things that didn't suck about it*! You wanna direct, George? Go for it, man.

Thirdly, there's the premise, a harsh look into the life story of Chuck Barris, the TV producer who gave us the Gong Show and who also, according to his autobiography, spent much of the 60s killing people for the CIA. Sounds like some tasty society-slamming satire, yes it does.

The other big winning thing about this film, the thing you wouldn't know until you'd seen it, is Sam Rockwell, who plays Barris. Maybe you remember him as the good-guy-who-becomes-the-bad-guy in Charlie's Angels, but even if you don't, he's definitely worth checking out. A role like this requires a lot of all over the place, a lot of nervous energy shuffled into cold calculation diced into slick charm, and Rockwell nails it in every scene, whether he's sweating out in front of the Gong Show cameras, freezing out his devoted girlfriend Drew Barrymore, or just smoking and thinking about killing people. This guy feels like a movie star; you can't help but be interested when he's onscreen.

As a first-time director, Clooney holds it together for about half the movie. He sets everything up slickly, smoothly. We see how Barris's frustrated misanthropy finds equal expression in contributing cynical game shows to American culture, slashing throats of anonymous bad guys in Berlin, and refusing to commit to Drew Barrymore. Clooney's picked up Steve Soderburg's knack for quick editing and shifts in film stock, and the movie is dark and sly and funny as it should be.

The only problem is that after a while, well, we get it. The fact that he hates people makes him a good TV producer and killer. Neat, but what else? There comes a point where the setting up is over, and the finishing up is supposed to kick in, but it never quite does. Julia Roberts shows up as a pretty unconvincing East-euro hitwoman of some kind, and there's some fruity plotline about a mole in the organization, but this isn't a spy thriller, so we don't really get into the spy-thrills plotline.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a rambling autobiography, so it makes sense that the movie rambles a bit, but eventually you start wondering if it's going to end. It does, of course, and when it's over you walk out of the theatre nodding your head and saying "interesting" when people ask how the movie was.