Death To Smoochy

Death To Smoochy is the kind of movie that geeks judge others with. Five or more years from now, when this movie finds its audience on video, geeks will assassinate character with phrases like, "Yeah, she's seems cool, but she didn't like Death To Smoochy." If this doesn't make sense to you, then one wonders how you ended up at a site called

Danny DeVito earned his dark comedy directing license after The War Of The Roses, and continued to exercise it with the brilliant Throw Mama From the Train and the awesome Matilda. With Death To Smoochy, DeVito proves he's still got his touch and even can overcome problems that have sunk similar films.

Set in the cutthroat world of live-action children's television, Death To Smoochy starts with beloved host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) taking cash in an FBI payola sting. The ensuing media frenzy puts Randolph on the street and leaves an open time slot in Kidnet's programming that network execs Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) and M. Frank Stokes (Jon Stewart) need to patch.

"You can't change the world, but you can make a dent."
They find said patch playing his own uplifting folk music at a methadone clinic, wearing a purple rhinoceros suit and the unlikely name of Smoochy (Edward Norton). Smoochy sees children's programming as the perfect platform to spread his painfully chipper neo-Hippie message. While the innocent Smoochy attempts to navigate through the jungle of crooked charities, merchandizing schemes and even the Irish mafia, Randolph seethes and plans his revenge.

The trailers sell Death To Smoochy as a dark revenge comedy, but it is in fact a dark rags-to-riches show business comedy - one of the many pitfalls of show business being a vengeful has-been. The story belongs to Edward Norton who, while one of the best young actors working today, doesn't put butts in seat like Mork and thusly takes second billing.

Pygmies brought down the last of the purple rhinos, but the feast was magnificent.
Norton plays Smoochy (and his "secret identity," Sheldon Mopes) with the wide-eyed new-agey goofiness that Woody Harrelson probably demonstrated while out of character on The People vs. Larry Flint. Even when singing the classic-in-waiting "My Stepfather's Not Bad (He's Just Adjusting)," Norton's passion in and out of the Smoochy suit borders on the same insanity that leads Randolph to seek revenge.

The picture itself works for the most part. There are some lulls, but when a script comes from the man that brought us Cabin Boy (Adam Resnick), so few lulls show that no one should be completely written off, regardless of how egregious their cinematic crime. Williams's energy works nicely for most of the movie, or at least better than fellow manic comic Jim Carrey's did in the equally dark The Cable Guy. At first Williams tries to play the character dark but as the story progresses Williams allows the subject matter to darken his comedic character.

How DARE you mention "Flubber?!?"
One of the film's strongest aspects is the reality it creates. While not as insanely over-the-top as the clown-based town of Shakes The Clown, the world of Death To Smoochy revolves solely around children's entertainment and the ancillary income on which it is based. Finally, someone has ripped into the lame spectacle that is the children's ice show. Now if only someone will trash Cirque Du Soleil and Blue Man Group we can truly rest easy.

As far as flaws go, the performances are all solid, but strangely mismatched. Some of the characters are more cartoony than others. Some characters don't mix well with others in some scenes, but alone each of the characters is hilarious. Any movie that features a Broadway-geek dwarf, a near-retarded ex-boxer, and the funniest use of a Nazi Rally since The Blues Brothers deserves more attention than the public will probably give it.

Special mention should be made of Pam Ferris who plays Irish Mob leader Tommy Cotter with a charming Irish lilt and a lust for street justice. She steals every scene she's in, just as she did as the Trunchbull in Matilda.

With enjoyable performances from both the leads and the supporting cast, a decent script, and solid comedic direction, Death To Smoochy packs plenty of entertainment even with its flaws. So if this picture interests you go check it out, but don't hold it against those who might not understand. Just accept their shortcomings and calmly try to explain.

What's It Worth? $8

Jordan Rosa

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