by Julian Shea
BBC News Online
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is George Clooney's first effort behind the camera as director, backed by executive producer Steven Soderbergh.
Rockwell is convincing as the entertainment guru
Imagine if Noel Edmonds wrote his autobiography and revealed he was actually an undercover SAS agent.
This, effectively, is the formula for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney's directorial debut, based on the autobiography of America's self-proclaimed king of puerile entertainment Chuck Barris.
Barris is the creator of such famous - or totally unfamiliar - programmes (depending on where you live) as The Gong Show, The Dating Game and the Newlywed Game.
He claims to have been a CIA agent who killed 33 people in the line of duty, sometimes using contestants' prize holidays as a cover for his missions.
Clooney admits "whether it's true or not is in Chuck's head", and Barris' success as a TV producer certainly proves he does not lack imagination.
Sam Rockwell plays Barris, with support from Clooney as Jim Byrd, his CIA contact and Drew Barrymore as his long-suffering but irrepressibly optimistic girlfriend Penny.
Julia Roberts plays Patricia, the other woman in his life whom he meets through the CIA.
The story charts his rise form eager newcomer to successful producer and then to breakdown, which makes him sit down and write the book, telling those who think they know him who he really is - or at least claims he is.
Drew Barrymore (left) stands out from the rest of the cast
And there is the rub.
The film's impact depends on familiarity with Barris' public persona. Without this grounding in American popular culture it means about as much as Edmonds' confessions would in the US.
It looks good and has some clever touches, like Barris saying goodbye to fellow CIA trainees Lee and Jack, shortly before the Kennedy assassination, but other than the star names it is unclear what would attract non-American audiences.
Rockwell acquits himself well as Barris, but the most eye-catching performances are from Clooney and especially Barrymore.
Clooney's voice is ideally suited to his low-key, shadow-lurking character, and Barrymore's ever-smiling devoted Penny is almost like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, when she stands by her man as their life grows increasingly strained.
The different strands of Barris' life are cleverly denoted. His broadcasting life is shot in bright soft focus tones, whereas the CIA scenes are in much harsher light, like Steven Soderbergh's Traffic.
The cast and producers have evidently enjoyed making the film and showing off their talents but ultimately to an audience unfamiliar with Barris it may well feel like being left out of a private joke.
Confessions of A Dangerous Mind opens in the UK on Friday.