If "Capturing the Friedmans," "Grizzly Man" and "Tarnation" have spawned a sub-genre of self-documented self-destruction, then "TV Junkie" is the latest entry. Culled by co-directors Michael Cain and Matt Radecki from some 3,000 hours of homemovies recorded by former broadcast journalist Rick Kirkham, pic uses that footage to chart Kirkham's rise to fame and eventual plummet into alcoholism and drug addiction. Though the concept is intriguing, the result is neither as bold nor emotionally gripping as the pic's acclaimed predecessors, hampered by a borderline-loathsome protagonist who is always front and center. Commercially, docu's title may portend its ultimate destination.
Kirkham obtained his first video camera as a teenager and, over the ensuing decades, the two were never far apart. Nearly every image on screen in "TV Junkie" derives either from his rambling, oddly confessional homemovies or from his professional TV appearances. It emerges as "TV Junkie's" thesis that, for the psychologically unstable Kirkham, the distinction between the real world and the televised world was always a thin one, with the picture-perfect comforts of TV seeming in many ways preferable to the responsibilities and uncertainties of life. Imagine if Jim Carrey had spent the entirety of "The Truman Show" trying to crawl inside that giant plastic bubble instead of trying to escape it and you've got the gist of "TV Junkie."
Pic is absorbing enough in its early sections as it documents Kirkham's meteoric ascent from crime reporter at a Las Vegas network affiliate to field reporter for nationally syndicated "Inside Edition," where he becomes known for taking on risky assignments.
During this same time, Kirkham marries his pregnant girlfriend, buys a big house and seems resolved to live happily ever after. Except that no matter how much fame and success come Kirkham's way, unspecified personal demons keep intruding.
As pic progresses, we see Kirkham habitually drown himself in drink and a variety of controlled substances until, inevitably, his career and marriage begin to crumble. It's a vicious cycle -- visits to rehab, promises of new starts, eventual relapses -- and an all-too-familiar one. Even the novelty of the video diaries wears off once we realize Kirkham is always "on," revealing little more of himself to his homemovie camera than to his national TV audience.
Kirkham rarely seems anything other than the architect of his own doom -- at one point physically abusing his wife and then attempting to pin the blame on her. Yet, save for some mention about Kirkham's mother suffering from Valium depression, pic never presents us with any compelling reason as to what makes Kirkham's case unique or worth the audience's emotional investment.
Cain and Radecki nevertheless work relentlessly to turn Kirkham's story into a heroic one and, in the final stretch, when "TV Junkie" brings on the triumph-over-adversity homilies, it not only rings false, but downright creepy.
Tech specs are inevitably crude, owing to the variable quality of the source footage, though lots of fancy editing helps to give the pic an agreeably polished appearance.
Camera (color, DV), Kirkham; editor, Radecki; associate producers, David Corrigan Andriole, Nigel Chalkley. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2006. Running time: 104 MIN.