Worth A Look: 43.82%
Pretty Bad: 7.87%
Total Crap: 19.1%
5 reviews, 59 user ratings
|Death to Smoochy
by Scott Weinberg
Sometime in the early 90's, world-famous comedian Robin Williams was secretly devoured by a pie-eyed, schmaltz-addicted buffoon. Over the last ten years, this evil creature has subjected the world to monumental movie garbage like Patch Adams and Jack and Flubber. To those who've been patiently wallowing through the treacle waiting for the formerly brilliant comedian to one day return...I have some good news.Gauging how much you still admire the "comic" Robin Williams would be an accurate way to decide if Death to Smoochy is for you. (A strong tolerance for mean-spirited and bleak humor is also recommended.) If you still hold fond memories of the manic performer in movies like Baron Munchausen, The Survivors and Good Morning Vietnam, then Death to Smoochy is sure to hit you in the right spot. Simply put, the guy is funnier here than he's been in ten years.
"Loud, crude, garish, sick, raunchy and silly. I had a ball."
Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, a sickeningly gleeful kid's show host while at work - and a devious crook in his spare time. After being publicly disgraced in a bribery scandal, Randolph is unceremoniously dumped by the TV studio, and the executives must scramble to find a new replacement.
Producers Frank and Nora come up with Sheldon Mopes, an affable schlub who sings kiddie songs down at the local methadone clinic while dressed as a giant rhino named Smoochy. The character is given a makeover, delivered to an enthusiastic home audience, and Sheldon's creation is an overnight success. The innocent yet strongly principled Mopes must now contend with Nora's bullying, a two-faced agent named Burke, an intimidating crew of Irish mobsters, and the mysterious producer/puppetmaster Merv Green. Oh, and let's not forget about poor Rainbow Randolph, now bitterly dejected and insanely jealous of Smoochy's newfound popularity, who promptly sets out to devise various Anti-Smoochy campaigns.
It may be a valid complaint to mention that a satire of "Barney"-type TV shows would have perhaps been more timely a few years ago. To that, one could simply reply better late than never. Although DeVito and screenwriter Adam Resnick occasionally bite off a little more than they can chew, Death to Smoochy is one of those rare comedies where "going too far" proves to be infinitely more entertaining than the alternative.
It's clear that the dark humor and over-the-top performance by Robin Williams may be off-putting to some moviegoers, but I found both to be a breath of fresh air in the generally stagnant realm of Studio Comedies. Not every gag hits the mark, but the ones that deliver do so with a satisfying bang. William's maniacally profane presence was especially refreshing, as I could feel each of his previous cornpone performances wash away under a torrent of F-bombs and spittle showers.
The rest of the colorful cast acquit themselves in two distinct categories:
The very funny:
Edward Norton underplays the aw-shucks decency of Mopes to an almost sarcastic degree, and the few scenes he shares with Williams (particularly one inside a limo) are priceless. Those under the impression that Norton is "all drama" are in for an enjoyable surprise.
Catherine Keener steals about a half-dozen scenes as the cranky cold-fish Nora Wells. If you're familiar with her work, you're probably thinking "So what else is new?" Keener's charming arrogance and "bitchy older sister" attitude is on full display here. That's always a good thing.
The funny people in woefully underwritten roles:
Why would you cast Jon Stewart as an arrogant TV exec and then give him nothing funny to do? This underrated comic has enjoyed nothing but fitful bit parts in several movies, and I look forward to his first shot at center stage. (Aside from the fantastic Daily Show, that is.)
Danny DeVito (perhaps a bit more concerned with actually directing this insanity) offers not a whole lot as the duplicitous talent agent. It's always cool to see Danny DeVito show up; he's just not given any of the better gags this time around.
"Black comedy" is always a dicey proposition, but for every gag that fizzles (the Irish mobsters and their idiot nephew, for instance), there's another bit that absolutely sings. Death to Smoochy works a wicked black comedy, a clever (albeit not brilliant) satire on the easy target of kiddie commercialism, and a dizzy little sitcom rolled into one. (Chalk it up to my longtime fondness for Robin Williams, but I somehow found myself liking the sick bastard!)
Although this is a flick that wears its flaws right out there for all to see, the skilled comic teamwork of Norton, Keener and Williams manage to right the ship on more than one occasion. Not merely for the insane and frothing presence of Robin Williams, Death to Smoochy is a bizarre, colorful, wholly entertaining, and undeniably sick little comedy. Those with a taste for their comedy a little on the questionable side will be entertained; devoted cynics will have a ball.Directed by Danny DeVito with his trademark concoction of dark unsettling humor set against a colorful backdrop (and featuring a handful of some beautifully "crooked" visual flairs), this twisted little farce is sure to split audiences right down the middle and ultimately enjoy a healthy shelf-life as a cult flick favorite.
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originally posted: 03/28/02 18:31:50