Based on Chuck Barris' unauthorized autobiography, the film shows how the host of the GONG SHOW also moonlighted as an assassin for the CIA. You're probably thinking to yourself, what? Barris, who also created THE DATING GAME and THE NEWLYWED GAME, truly claims in his autobiography that he killed 33 people for his government. Is it true — most people think not — but Barris still sticks by his tale.
In the film, Sam Rockwell (GREEN MILE, MATCHSTICK MEN) plays Barris as a guy who constantly doubts his own achievements. He views himself as someone who has done impressive things but not as impressive as he wishes he could have done. At the height of his fame, TV critics declared him the sole reason for the decline of human society; kind of like the makers of a lot of reality shows are called today. The sad thing is that he believed them. Rockwell plays the conflicted soul of a man who strives for greatness in all the wrong places.
What's great about the CIA stuff is that depending on whether your feel it's real or fake, it adds to different ways of reading the psyche of Barris. He has two main women in his life Penny (Drew Barrymore, CHARLIE'S ANGELS) and Patricia (Julia Roberts, PRETTY WOMAN). Penny is the more down-to-Earth girl that is good, reliable and fun. Patricia is the sultry vixen of pulp novels and film noir. Guess whom Barris leans toward and guess whom Barris really loves. There are two stories working here at the same time, depending on what you want to believe. But it's that just like life?
George Clooney (SOLARIS) directs as well as plays CIA agent Jim Byrd. Taking notes from the directors he's worked with before like Steven Soderbergh (TRAFFIC) and the Coen Bros. (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), Clooney balances between broad comedy, glitzy '60s and '70s TV shows and the dark, damp world of international espionage. The strange material also benefits from the singular wit of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. For people who watched THE DATING GAME, there is a great joke regarding the inevitability of whom the girl was going to pick and the way the others looked. Great scene. The lie — if it is one — works. Like all fiction, it's a good lie. Despite being a depressive guy, Barris' film isn't. It's enjoyable and funny. A solid entertainment.