Death to Smoochy

2 bone dogRated: R
Stars: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito
Director: Danny DeVito
Writer: Adam Resnick

Director Danny DeVito’s and writer Adam Resnick’s demented kiddy show caper brings out the wicked best in Robin Williams and softens the edges around the usually brooding Edward Norton. But, leave the kids home; Norton’s cutesy, crooning Purple Rhino, notwithstanding, this is no film for little tykes. It’s an over-the-top satire about the nasty merchandising and competition surrounding the cut-throat business of TV kiddy shows. And sometimes, it’s very, very funny.

Robin Williams plays the flamboyant Rainbow Randolph who hoofs and sings his way as host of his own kiddy show that delights in politically correct messages like “Friends Come in All Sizes” when it isn’t hawking expensive merchandise between segments.

When Randolph’s celebrity takes a sudden nosedive, sharp-tongued show producer Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) is ordered to find a replacement. The number one pick is the squeaky clean but more sedate Sheldon Mopes (Norton) whose schtick is performing as Smoochy the Rhino. Nora’s less than enthusiastic about her new assignment. Reluctantly, she locates the poor schnook at his latest gig, entertaining sleepy druggies at a Coney Island methadone clinic. When promised that they’ll be no untoward merchandising to the kiddies, Sheldon hops aboard the show. His satisfaction lasts only as long as it takes for Nora to gear up with unhealthy sugar frosted Rhino cereal and toys galore.

But Sheldon’s not as dumb as he may look. He hires top kiddy show talent agent Burke Bennett (DeVito) to get him what he wants, unaware that he’s now the patsy and Bennett’s pulling all the strings. In the wings, actively planning for Smoochy’s quick demise is the embittered, dethroned Randolph. And along his merry way, Sheldon has to contend with a crooked charity fundraiser in the guise of Harvey Fierstein, an Irish restaurateur (Pam Ferris) and her thuggish lads, and a brain-damaged prizefighter (Michael Rispoli) who’s a Smoochy fanatic.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a jumble, all these strange characters thrown together, but it’s wicked fun for the most part with lots of terrifically crackling dialogue. Robin Williams gets to let loose with one of the most vicious mouths heard in a long time. He’s wonderful. Keener does a good job, alternately fighting with Sheldon and fighting off her growing attraction to the upstanding fellow who puts the welfare of kids before money. Edward Norton gets a whole new image here that’s quite pleasant and it’s surprising how well he fits the bill.

Lotta says:   Death to Smoochy is silly, clever and biting without being stupid. That’s saying a lot considering most satires don’t even come close to good in this category. I liked it!

Reviewed 3/30/02