The world of kids TV is ripe for parody,
but Robin Williams' dark comedy Death to Smoochy doesn't
have enough of the black humor one wants in such a farce.
However good it is to see Williams in a
comedic endeavor after his maudlin missteps Patch Adams
and Bicentennial Man, it's too bad he isn't funnier.
Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, the booze-guzzling,
bribe-taking sleazebag host of a highly rated children's show.
He's at the top of his game, living in a Manhattan penthouse,
when a scandal destroys his career. (No echoes of Pee-wee
Herman here; the feds got wise to his blackmailing of stage
The network president (a curiously watered-down
Jon Stewart) finds a too-good-to-be-true replacement,
the integrity-oozing Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton ), who dons
a fuchsia rhino costume and becomes Smoochy. Mopes quickly
makes the transition from playing such gigs as the Coney Island
methadone clinic, where his squeaky-clean act barely registers,
to a big-time TV show.
Born the same day as Sesame Street's
first broadcast, the ultra-earnest Mopes believes in the power
of the kiddy pulpit, pushing fruit and soy dogs instead of
candy and hot dogs.
Slimy Randolph, now down and out, is out
for vengeance. His plan: annihilate the innocent Smoochy.
The premise is silly enough to wring out some laughs, but
the plot plays out disappointingly.
The usually funny Catherine Keener plays
the cynical network exec who falls for Smoochy. Her edgy style
works when she's a smirking, cold-hearted businesswoman, but
not when she makes a 180-degree turn to being ridiculously
Norton is effective enough; his boyishly
earnest face suits the role. But some nagging physical details
distract from his performance.
It appears that some sequences were reshot
well after the main production, because the length of Norton's
hair changes dramatically from one scene to the next.
While Williams plays his character like
a depraved Willy Wonka, his mugging grows cloying and annoying.
His one-liners are funnier than the overall execution of the
movie, which is directed by Danny DeVito, who also plays Smoochy's
The movie is operatic in tone, when a subtler
approach might have sufficed.
Smoochy, like the cuddly character,
tries to be loved and ends on an unrealistically upbeat note.
But it's in better, wittier form just being vicious and biting.