The Gong Show Movie (1980) / Comedy
MPAA rated: R for crude humor, sexual humor, brief nudity and language
Running time: 89 min.
Cast: Chuck Barris, Robin Altman, James B. Douglas, Mabel King, Jaye P. Morgan, Rip Taylor, Murray Langston, Gene Patton
Small roles: Steve Garvey, Jamie Farr, Pat McCormick, Rosey Grier, Tony Randall, Phil Hartman, Danny Devito, Kitten Natividad, Taylor Negron
Director: Chuck Barris
Screenplay: Chuck Barris, Robert Downey
Review published June 17, 2012
The low-rent talent show from 1970s television mustered up enough popularity to eventually score its own movie. The movie, like the TV show it is based on, hashes up laughs with lots of lowbrow humor, many coming from the wacky game show contestants who are willing to do just about anything to get themselves on television and a very meager cash prize. Not unlike the early weeks during a season of "American Idol", contestants who make it in front of the three celebrity judges have a small amount of time to impress them, during which any one of the three judges can bang a gong to stop the act and eliminate the contestant from continuing. Contestants who make it through the act without being gonged are judged by each celeb on a scale of 1 to 10, with the highest overall score getting the "prize".
Chuck Barris ("The Dating Game", "The Newlywed Game") , the "Gong Show"'s co-creator/producer/writer/host wrote up this movie, along with Robert Downey Sr. (Hugo Pool, Putney Swope), and also directed. The premise is what it is like for Barris as the host of the show during a week, though it is played up for laughs. The pains of being a celebrity host of a wildly popular talent show means that he is stopped everywhere by random people who recognize him and want him to take a few minutes out from whatever he is doing to watch their (often) horrible acts. With studio execs expecting him to clean up his act and turn around ratings 'slippage', he begins to question whether it is worth it to continue with the show, as it has affected his day-to-day activities, his relationship with real-life partner Robin "Red" Altman, and his health, both physical and mental. He's on a collision course for a breakdown.
Other than glimpses at many of the absurd acts that would audition as well as would get on the "Gong Show" as contestants, the rest of the film is a semi-comedic look at Barris's state of mind by this point of his career. The irony of having a show that was a conduit for any American from any walk of life to become would be that the host of such a show would wish he had the anonymity of the people who want to be famous, just wanting to go someplace in the country where he can order a coffee without having to watch a barrage of song and dance routines from whomever happens to be nearby. Then there are the self-made critics who insist on telling him how stupid he is and how much they hate the show, some of them just after telling him they love it and feeling rebuffed when Barris doesn't have time or patience to watch their ridiculous talents.
Outside of seeing the novelty of uncensored footage of "The Gong Show", only someone fascinated by Barris already would find much of the subject matter of The Gong Show Movie fascinating, as taking it in general movie terms reveal a rambling, plot-less, listless mess. As a lighthearted look into the dark soul of a comedian who no longer found much funny in his life, perhaps there's more to the movie than a collection of random odd moments, choppy direction and unbridled egotism (Barris even deigns to write and sing quite a few mostly awful songs). It's a vanity piece made by Chuck Barris for Chuck Barris, and will likely only appeal to those who find Barris as fascinating as he finds himself. For films about stars who decide to bite the hand that feeds them, Woody Allen did it much better in Stardust Memories, coincidentally released the same year.
©2012 Vince Leo