Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Kangaroo Jack
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
You can tell that veteran actor George Clooney has wanted to direct for a long time. In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, his directorial debut, he uses elaborate camera moves, meticulously choreographed scenes, various film stock and video footage, and a non-linear narrative line to adapt game show producer Chuck Barris's "unauthorized autobiography." These techniques energize the film and lend it an ironic sense of humor, reflecting Clooney's accessible and likable persona. It captures the absurd quality of Barris's tome, adapted by the modern master of the ridiculous Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich). That Clooney proves to be a skillful director is not surprising. What is surpising is how the story runs out of gas even as Clooney remains eager and willing to impress.
Barris came to fame in the '60s for producing The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game. Though the cancellation of these two shows put the producer in a tailspin, he was back in the late '70s with The Gong Show, which media and social critics lambasted. Barris, who lacked confidence and self-respect, took their harsh remarks to heart. After hitting bottom he wrote his book, claiming that while he was basking in the glow of his successful career he was working as an assassin for the CIA, which recruited him to knock off European evildoers. Barris claimed to have notched 33 hits on his belt before retiring.
Master showman that he is, Barris has never backed down from any of these claims. It seems obvious, however, that he's taking one last shot at the critics who overreacted to his innocent and tasteless brand of entertainment. Having been singled out by their moral outrage, Barris does them one better by casting himself as more than just a killer of the mind.
Clooney and Kaufman follow through with this motive and toss in a psychological angle as well, suggesting that Barris's self-esteem was so low that he had to concoct a fantasy to give himself a sense of worth. The product of a loveless marriage, unsuccessful with women, and the whipping boy of the media, it's no wonder Barris is a bundle of neuroses. But as a globetrotting spy, he's confident and powerful, dispatching his targets with efficiency. He also proves irresistible to a sexy femme fatale (Julia Roberts).
Sam Rockwell masterfully captures Barris's self-loathing, infectious drive toward success, and, when his fame wanes and friends leave, despair. Playing the one faithful friend in his life, Drew Barrymore gives a grounded performance that reminds us how good she is when she isn't trapped in fluff. Meanwhile, Clooney makes an impression as Jim Byrd, the agent who recruits Barris for the CIA. He is Barris's alter ego, as cool and assured as the game show producer is gawky and clumsy.
Like many first-time directors, Clooney dwells too much on the film's premise and leaves in superfluous scenes. Yet, it's obvious Clooney has a sense of style that's full of possibilities. Though Confessions is flawed and overstays its welcome, as the debut of an innovative filmmaker it will be fondly remembered for years to come.
(Running time 1:51, Rated R)
As two lifelong friends, Charlie Carbone and Louis Fucci (Jerry O'Connell and Anthony Anderson) find themselves in dire straits. Hoping to get back in favor with Charlie's mobster stepfather (Christopher Walken), they've agreed to go to Australia and deliver $50,000 to a mysterious Mr. Smith. This simple task takes a wrong turn on an Outback road when they hit a Karangoo with their rented jeep. Before dragging the kanga to the roadside, Louis insists on putting his lucky jacket and sunglasses on it. The animal evidently resembles a friend and he wants to take a gag photo. The kangaroo, however, turns out to be alive. With a sudden jump and with Louis's jacket still on, the kanga hops away into the Outback. The problem is that the $50,000 is in the jacket.
Kangaroo Jack is proof of Jerry Bruckeimer's Hollywood clout. Despite its ludicrous plot and because of his intention to cash in on the lucrative family film business, the man responsible for Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and Gone in 60 Seconds threw his weight around and got this movie made. Imagine my surprise when Jack proved to be a pleasant and silly romp, all mostly due to the wit and energy of its two young stars and its title character, which is brought to life with cutting-edge special effects.
First-time director David McNally obviously has studied Bruckheimer's earlier efforts. Perhaps he is being groomed for the producer's next bone-rattling blockbuster. Jack sports the usual high production values found in the filmmaker's crowd pleasers with sharply executed action scenes that thrill the young audience it's pitched to. McNally knows how to execute these scenes with style and clarity. His quick pace gives the film momentum and a light-hearted tone that keep the audience engaged.
However, what makes the film work as well as it does is the chemistry between O'Connell and Anderson. The two actors have great fun in this movie in the best Stan-and-Ollie tradition. Their rapport makes it easy to believe that Charlie and Louis are lifelong friends. And their interaction with the various incarnations of Kangaroo Jack (real kangas, animatronic models, and computer-generated images were all used) gives the marsupial screen credibility.
Kangaroo Jack is never going to make anyone forget about Monsters, Inc, the Harry Potter films, and any of the other recent family classics. However, with its nods to Road Runner cartoons, Animal Planet travelogues, and Crocodile Dundee culture clashes, it ends up being far more entertaining than you might expect. After all, how many movies include a dream sequence featuring a talking kangaroo with Christopher Walken's voice. Now that's entertainment!
(Running time 1:28, rated PG)