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 many.
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 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
"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.
OnMilwaukee.com Rating: 2 out of 4 stars