A movie that combines "Ocean's Eleven" stars and a core storyline from "A Beautiful Mind" with the TV progenitor of Simon Cowell? It seems unlikely, as does much of the book this film's script was based on, yet it all comes together well in a very weird, but hilarious piece of entertainment.
Sam Rockwell is dead-on as game show producer Chuck Barris, who created not only two staples of American television mediocrity (The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game), but also the "American Idol" of the 1970s -- The Gong Show. The only differences between Barris' production and today's "Idol" are that Barris featured ONLY bad wanna-bes, so there were no recording contracts and such offered, and his judges were a lot funnier, as was he. Of course, viewers were different back then, too, in that they didn't know what to make of a show on which struggling "talent" were verbally abused. Today, that's half of Idol's viewership. In any case, Rockwell's portrayal of him is perfect.
Equally good are Drew Barrymore, as Barris' on-again, off-again, on-again love interest, George Clooney as Barris' supposed CIA handler, and fellow assassin Julia Roberts. In fact, Barrymore is considerably better here than in most of her roles. The appearance of Rutger Hauer also made me laugh, especially given the tough guy roles he used to play. And cameos by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are priceless.
As for the "A Beautiful Mind" reference, Barris' assertion that he served as a CIA assassin during that period is so absurd that it immediately made me think of the Russell Crowe/Jennifer Connelly film's delusional spy sequences. It's also fitting considering that the central message of Barris' book is that it is immensely painful to have a brilliant mind in early life, yet end up wasting it on developing cheap fodder like "The Dating Game." (Pretty much the story of American televison in general.)
Don't get me wrong -- this is NOT a movie classic. Still, Barris is such a weird yet bright man that the film is fun throughout. And its depiction of this period of TV-making in America is funny, believable, and all too insightful as to how we ended up with the flood of "reality" and game shows that pollute our TV screens today. The film blames Barris, because he did himself, but it's the networks that pushed and paid for this dreck, and still do.
If you have an absurdist bone in your body, you'll at least get several laughs out of this. Enjoy.