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Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) is young and ambitious, intent on a successful career in the early days of television. He quickly gains a profile as a producer, creating innovative and popular game shows such as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and the self-hosted The Gong Show. But while acting as the travel chaperone for winners of the television programmes, he is recruited by the CIA’s Jim Byrd (George Clooney) to act as an assassin in foreign countries. Meantime at home, Barris’ long time girlfriend Penny Pacino (Drew Barrymore) doesn’t know and can’t understand why her man is away so frequently.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hey, what if the CIA recruited a tv show host as an offshore hitman – the perfect cover -and the double life elements make great copy. It’s the sort of thing that could inspire a man to write a book, especially if he was a real tv producer with shows as tacky as The Dating Game or The Gong Show. The juxtaposition of occupations is of such intensity as to be ethereal. But how do you pull it off? Nobody would take it seriously. You can’t spoof your own work – nobody’d finance that, it’s creative death and commercial suicide. Ahaaa, but what if the tv producer and presenter was a REAL one…. Chuck Barris, say. Now you’re talking turkey.

And so it was that George Clooney read Barris’ book and decided this was the project he would use as his directing debut. Lots of pluses to work with, including the fact that nobody would question the storyline. (Well, you know what I mean.) And when big name stars started falling over each other to play even roles like the Unknown Comic* with a paper bag over their heads, he must have realised the projects had potential.

Mike Myers was going to play Barris at one stage, but it finally went to Sam Rockwell, and just as well. Myers would have been wonderful, but the film needs to stay within the vague realms of possibility. Myers would have blown that, purely by his screen persona (can you see him as anything but Austin Powers?) Riddled with self doubt and always on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Rockwell’s Barris is a hyperactive firecracker zig-zagging through his life.

It’s great fun to watch and we are never sure what exactly is going on – but we know that something is. *Trivia to titillate you: in a large Las Vegas hotel some years ago, I saw the very funny and original The Unknown Comic (real name Murray Langston), just after The Gong Show had catapulted him to fame, and met him backstage – then in my capacity as Editor of Encore magazine, which in those days covered live entertainment. He had volunteered for The Gong Show to make a bit of money, but he was too embarrassed to appear on the show as himself, then a struggling stand up comic. So he put a bag over his head and billed himself as The Unknown Comic.

The Gong Show Acts on this DVD extras package is a mini freak show, but may tickle your funny bone, if you can stand Sam Rockwell’s annoying intros. More intriguing than informative, the 6 minute feature, The Real Chuck Barris is misnamed. It’s a glimpse, and it isn’t the real Chuck; he never admits anything. But it’s an interesting juxtaposition, especially as he looks just like Sam Rockwell may when he gets that old.

But you, like me, will probably head straight for the Is It True featurette, one of seven mini-chapters in the Behind The Scenes section. And I’ll let you enjoy this short item without preconceptions. The other chapters include How It Got Made, Sam’s Interpretationand George The Director.

But there’s more of George the director in the audio commentary, which he shares with Tom Sigel, the cinematographer. It has a nicely casual tone from the start, a chat between the two collegues, discoursing, enlightening and reminiscing as if sitting on a porch with a beer in front of a screen, low key - but high value. They include personal asides (eg Drew Barrymore’s divorce announcement coinciding with the second day of shooting) and amusing anecdotes. They seem to be simply enjoying watching their own movie! And so do we, seeing it again, in all its earnest craziness.

Published December 11, 2003

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CAST: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts

DIRECTOR: George Clooney

SCRIPT: Charlie Kaufman (novel by Chuck Barris)

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9, DD 5.1 English & German

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with director George Clooney and cinematographer Tom Sigel; Behind the Scenes, Sam Rockwell screen test; the Real Chuck Barris; Gong Show Acts


DVD RELEASE: November 19, 2003

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