"'Death to Smooch' is a major
March 29, 2002
by Paul Doro
All the ingredients for
a nasty dark comedy are present. Screenwriter Adam Resnick has won awards for
his work with David Letterman and HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show." The cast includes
Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Catherine Keener and Jon Stewart. Co-star Danny
DeVito directs. And the premise is ripe with possibilities.
Because of the elevated
expectations due to the immense amount of talent involved, "Death To Smoochy"
is a major letdown. While it never becomes a debacle, by the end it's nothing
more than a squandered opportunity.
Rainbow Randolph Smiley
(Williams) is the host of the highest rated kid's show on television. Instead
of allowing us to get to know him a little, the film immediately has Randolph
getting busted by the FBI for taking cash bribes from parents who want their
kids on his show.
The network, Kidnet, needs
a replacement fast. President M. Frank Stokes (Stewart) wants someone with no
criminal history or shady background. That leaves out all of the most popular
candidates, who suffer from, among other ailments, heroin addictions and alcoholism.
That leaves Smoochy, otherwise
known as Sheldon Mopes (Norton). Network exec Nora Wells (Keener) finds him
performing to smack addicts in a rundown methadone clinic on Coney Island. He's
singing a hilarious song to them about kicking their habit.
Smoochy, a huge purple rhino,
quickly rises to the top. He gets Randolph's Manhattan penthouse, takes over
the number one spot, has himself plastered on a billboard in Times Square and
sees him dreams come true.
But squeaky clean, naive
Sheldon isn't prepared for the cutthroat world of children's television. Nora
won't take his creative input for the show, an agent (played by DeVito) wants
him to sell out and do whatever it takes to make piles of money and Randolph
will do whatever it takes to smear Smoochy's name and get his show back.
There is plenty to work
with here, and there are times when "Death To Smoochy" displays the kind of
movie it could (and should) have been. Examples include a scene where Smoochy
pulls a cookie shaped like male genitalia out of a bag in front of children
and a studio audience, which is one of Randolph's schemes to tarnish Smoochy,
while another has the rhino singing an extremely funny song about accepting
stepfathers, who are just like new puppies and need to adjust.
But it doesn't take enough
risks and plays it safe too often. A romance between Sheldon and Nora is forced,
unbelievable and unnecessary. This movie doesn't need it, and all it does is
drag things out and increase the conventional elements, of which there are too
The last 30 minutes or so
is especially unsatisfying. DeVito and Resnick apparently became afraid of alienating
audiences and settle for a moronic shootout, foot chase and happy ending. By
now, any edginess has left the building.
The characters are also
a problem. Williams, in a small supporting role, is given no background and
little to do. He screams every time he's on screen and is more annoying than
funny. He does have a few good one-liners, but they are few and far between.
Norton, who is a phenomenally
good actor, as evidenced in "American History X" and "Fight Club," among others,
is extremely bland here. He is never quite convincing and fails to solidly grasp
the role. He's wholesome and clueless one minute, smart and savvy the next,
and uneven from start to finish.
"Death To Smoochy" has its
share of moments and does provide some hearty laughs. But the ingredients don't
mix and it fails to work as a dark comedy and satire, opting to play it safe
and become a routine Hollywood comedy by the time the credits roll.
"Death To Smoochy" opens
at theaters everywhere on Fri., March 29.
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
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