Chuck Barris’s fanciful 1984 autobiography has been kicking around Hollywood almost as long as Barris was kicking around network television, and George Clooney has finally brought it to the screen as his directing debut. Written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), it charts the rise of a young man on the make (Sam Rockwell in a knockout performance) from the early 60s, when Barris wrote the Freddy Cannon hit “Palisades Park,” to the late 60s, when he created The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, and through the 70s, when his freak talent contest The Gong Show was cited as evidence that television had hit rock bottom (little did they know). At the same time, Barris claims, he was recruited as a CIA operative and mixed business with pleasure, assassinating enemy agents while he chaperoned winning singles from The Dating Game around Europe. Clooney badly botches the spy plot by casting himself as Barris’s agency contact (his surprising appearances reminded me of Larrabee on Get Smart) and a truly awful Julia Roberts as Barris’s Mata Hari lover (she’s soundly upstaged by Drew Barrymore as his devoted girlfriend). Yet the mounting delirium drives home Kaufman’s basic point: that a shadow government rules by bread and circuses. Interspersed is commentary from people who’ve known Barris (Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine); when the man himself appears at the close, his bland but crafty smile chills to the bone. 113 min. Many bookings not available at press time; see www.chicagoreader.com/movies for up-to-date info.