Death to Smoochy

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 04/11/02 18:51:03

"The Rhino is up way past his bedtime"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Ironically, the kiddie-show parody "Death to Smoochy" suffers from the same problem as most of the shows it pokes fun at - it runs on for far too long, certainly longer than it is able to maintain a firm hold on the attention span of it's intended audience. Yes, there are several funny laugh-out-loud bits, but as the two-hour film drones past its appropriate 80-90 minute running time, the laughter succumbs to a terminal case of AI-tis. (you know, that real long Kubrick film that Spielberg butchered by making it even longer).

Yes, it is nice to see Robin Williams do something different from the usual smarmy pap of the "Patch Adams" ilk that his career has degenerated into. But if he is guilty of overplaying the sentimentality card in his past several films, then he takes it too far to the other extreme om "Smoochy". The bulk of his antics is pretty much him flying into a rage and saying "Motherfucker" a lot. Sure, it's fun the first dozen times, but after the thirtieth, it gets a bit tired.

The ridiculous premise of "Death to Smoochy" is that a popular kid's network kiddie-show host, "Rainbow Randolph" (Williams), has fallen from grace due to an FBI bust on some payola charges (Why the fuck the FBI would waste their time on this petty bullshit is beyond me). So he loses his show and is out on the street. Meanwhile, the network exec in charge of development(John Stewart) and his associate, Nora (Catherine Keener) are scrambling to find a replacement, one who is untouched by scandal. The only one they can find without a sordid past is Smoochy the Rhino, aka Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a guy who does gigs at children's hospitals and methadone clinics. Both in and out of costume, he is a vegan poster boy whose motto is "you can't change the world, but you can make a dent."

They give Smoochie his own show, and Nora quickly aims to cash in with merchandising, against Sheldon's wishes. All he wants to do is make children happy while using his folksy kid songs to spout new-age platitudes and deliver a morality lesson. Nora despises him as a no-talent phony, while being secrety attracted to him (the first rule of predictably crappy films - whenever a male and female character despise each other, they will be fucking by the third reel).

Meanwhile, Randolph embarks on numerous attempts to sabotage Smoochie's show and get his old time slot back (the "Magic Cookie" scene is the best of these attempts by far). He's not the only one scheming, however, as a number of shady mafioso characters (Played by Danny Devito, who also directs, and Harvey Firestein) are trying to horn in on Smoochie's action, strong-arming him into performing ice shows and other appearances to supposedly benefit children's hospitals. When Sheldon asks Firestein's character "Do your events really benefit children's hospitals?" the reply is "We've been known to add a brick or two".

Needless to say, the "plot" is all downhill from there. Despite the initial abundance of hilarious scenes, there's nothing substantial to hold it all together. Tedious and overlong, it ends with a whimper in the form of a sappy feel-good ending. Its attempts to make fun of the smarmy and saccharine nature of kiddie entertainment end up being a mere duplication rather than a parody. While the acting is competent, you can never get a clear handle on Norton's character, or really care enough about him to hazard a guess. Likewise, Keener's character is overly bitchy and overly simplified. Jon Stewart is pretty much scenery and should either stick to the Daily Show or read better scripts. And Williams? well, you can try and make him as nasty and loony as you want, but it's still the same old Robin Williams. Been there, done that, good evening Vietnam.

If you don't mind mining out the nuggets of comedic gold from the sluice of shit, then you probably won't mind the extra 40 minutes that this film meanders on for after you think it's about to end. Let's just be glad that "Death to Smoochy" is neither box-office worthy or sequel-friendly, and that Smoochy will most likely die with this film.

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