Death to Smoochy
As many of you know, from reading my reviews, I am a massive Edward Norton fan and collect his movies. I can hardly believe that this movie is ten years old already. It seems time flies in Hollywood in a way that is almost parallel to the real world.
Death to Smoochy was made by Warner brothers in 2002 and received a varied mish-mash of comments from the critics. On one hand they slammed it for not being funny enough as surely it was a comedy? On the other they said that the comedy spoiled the inner meaning of the film.
Death to Smoochy is a satirical comedy that is filtered with laughs but has a much darker side and even in its deeper moments shows us that some laughs are very uncomfortable indeed.
The movie stars Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Catherine Keener and Danny DeVito, who also directed it.
There are some laugh out loud parts in the movie but some of the lines are hit and miss. I think this is down to the films writer Adam Resnick who was responsible for some of the poorer shows that he penned for Larry Sanders. Not that Resnick is a bad writer, anything but; I just feel that the comedy element of the film is not its strongest selling point. The film is a lot more intelligent that it gets credit for and under the laughs is a back-handed swipe at how trivial show business and the entertainment world can be.
Ed Norton plays Sheldon Mopes, a children's entertainer. It is Rainbow Randolph however, played by Robin Williams that rules the children's entertainment world, until he decides that he has had enough and sings a song laden with perversity and sick sexual anecdotes and loses his job. Mopes goes on to become very popular in his role as 'Smoochy' the purple rhino. Randolph is not having any of this and what follows is a dark journey into the mind of a man scorned and a man hell bent on revenge. There is only one thing that will sate Randolph's desire for retribution and that is the death of Smootchy.
If you're an Ed Norton fan, or at least familiar with him, then you have to see this movie. It is such a different role for him and he plays it well. Many would think that he just took this one lightly as a fill in for some of his more serious films on a first look at the DVD cover or movie poster, but he did nothing of the kind. Norton even wrote the main song for Smootchy and co-wrote some of the others. His character Mopes is vulnerable and leaves you waiting for him to fight back or to lash out against Randolph. Being at the top or being in the gutter is a fine line in show business and Norton's vulnerability and eventual constitution I this movie is a tribute to man's strength and willingness to fight in the face of adversity.
Robin Williams is an actor who I prefer in a straight acting role to a comedy. A lot of you will say 'What? But he's so funny' and yes he is that's true but he is also an incredible actor (Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, One Hour Photo, to mention a few) and the beauty of his role in this film is the very fact that his character turns from a children's entertainer into a stalking psychopath. Williams plays his part well. For me personally, when Robin Williams does comedy he can be extremely funny but also way over the top and going off into tangents that no one can really follow or understand and when he acts straight he comes across as a compelling, compassionate man who has the ability to draw empathy and realism into a role.
Some of you may know Catherine Keener from 'Being John Malkovich' and I must say that she seemed well out of place in this movie. Not knocking her as an actress as she is a fine actress but something about her character and her performance in this movie just didn't sit right with me or seem to have any point.
There is a small role in the movie for Pam Ferris, the great English comedy actress from Darling Buds of May fame. At one part in the film she is at a funeral and blurts out the line 'It's a shame this happened. Okay, now let's go pray and get shit-faced.', which was quite funny.
Danny DeVito plays Burke Bennett in his usual role of manager/agent/adviser to the children's entertainment fraternity. It's a role we have all become accustomed to seeing him play. This time however, he was directing the film as well and he did a fine job in my opinion. The shots are rather neat and the photography and sheer size of the wardrobe on the film is quite impressive. David Newman provides us with the music throughout the film and co-wrote some of the songs with Norton.
The standard DVD contains the movie and cast biographies. I own the special edition which contains interviews, making of documentaries, podcasts and blooper reels.All in all this is not a bad little movie and certainly worth a watch. If you're expecting a usual Williams 'Doubtfire' performance then it won't be for you and is definitely not one for the kids. It is strictly an adult movie that can be very close to the edge at times and some of the laughs are cringe-worthy in their blatant disregard for decency.
Norton is great and Williams is too in a movie that was a little different for both of them.It's not one of the greatest movies ever made but is certainly one of the most different, which is refreshing in this world of pointless remakes and made to please Hollywood gumph and it is certainly worth a watch.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
Certificate: 15 (UK), R (USA)
Running time: 109 minutes
Director: Danny De Vito
Robin Williams Rainbow Randolph
Edward Norton Sheldon Mopes/Smoochy
Catherine Keener Nora Wells
Danny De Vito Burke Bennett
Pam Ferris Tommy Cotter
Death to Smoochy is a film that aims to be both a black comedy and a satire of the saccharine world of American childrens TV. It tries very hard to be mean-spirited and scathingly brutal about the realities of this world and the personalities that populate it, but Danny De Vitos attempt at shredding the image of this cosy land of magic and glitter never quite manages to be dark enough to be black comedy or sharp enough to be a satisfying satire. Every time the film seems to approach the necessary edge, it seems to withdraw back and try to be cosier; unfortunately, it is very difficult to get a film to be both loveable and scathing at the same time.
The film is based around New York childrens TV station Kidnet, which produces a top-rated show starring Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), a huge media star in the business who commands a good deal of power and influence. However, when the lights and music of the show fade, we are left with a hard drinking, foul mouthed, bad tempered egotist who cares for little more than the money he can make from merchandising. When he is caught in a sting by two FBI agents acting as parents trying to bribe Randolph to get their child onto his show he is soon sacked from Kidnet, ending up broke, homeless and intent on revenge towards his replacement, the squeaky-clean performer Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton).
Mopes is the sort of character who the word nice was invented for. He is a tree-hugging hippy vegetarian with an obsession for healthy living and a motto that runs: you may not be able to change the world, but you can sure make a dent. Mopes is the creator of a large pink rhino called Smoochy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain purple dinosaur that is currently embedded within American popular culture; Smoochy takes over the coveted TV slot with an all-singing, all-dancing live show that kids love. Sheldon, innocent of the ways of network television, sees Smoochy as a way of educating children in his own philosophies; he teaches them the please and thank you song and sings about the virtues of eating organic food. The shows produced Nora (Catherine Keener) on the other hand, merely wants to use the rhino to promote more tasteless tack to the viewing public, such as Smoochy cola, Smoochy-O cereal and Smoochy dolls. Despite the earnest worthiness of the Smoochy show, it becomes a huge hit, pushing Randolph to the brink of madness as he sets out to regain his crown as king of kids TV (Bastard Son of Barney! Die! Die, stuffed ball of fluff! Illegitimate Teletubby! Die, you Muppet from hell!). Blissfully unaware of his rivals intents, Sheldons dim-witted innocence sees him embroiled in all of the pitfalls of the media world: sleazy executives, dirty money, kiddie show groupies, bribes and corruption.
Somewhere inside this tangled plot there is a cult classic black comedy trying to get out unfortunately, De Vito does a good job of keeping it hidden. There are some holes in the plot that never quite get filled in adequately (if Randolph was such a rich star and was taking sizeable bribes, how did losing his show make him homeless where did all the money go?) and some of the scripting is below the standard you would expect for a film directed by such an experienced hand. Williams and Norton are well enough cast, but seem throughout the film to be encouraged to play for laughs where a straighter, deadpan delivery would have been more appropriate to the subject matter (and a good deal funnier, too). We all know by now that Robin Williams can be excellent at providing a creepy, sleazy character than can make your skin crawl (as he did in One Hour Photo and Insomnia), and I was left wondering why this capacity wasnt brought out more in Death to Smoochy. It would have given the blackness of the comedy real depth and darkness, and provided more of a contrast to Nortons character than the attention-grabbing shouting, ranting and mugging of scenes that Williams ends up with in many places (more of an alcoholic Mork than a truly sinister would-be assassin). Norton, on the other hand, seems to believe in his character and brings to Mopes a warmth and affection that is actually quite endearing. Sheldon is made a better character for being quietly larger-than-life and does not smother scenes with excessive performances like Williams does in some parts of the film.
Through this film, there seems to be an atmosphere of arent we being naughty by doing this?. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the presence of Spinner (Michael Rispoli), created as a gentle natured ex-champion boxer with a love of the Smoochy show, whose gangster relatives persuade Mopes to let him be in it. Spinner is played at a very basic level as a punch-drunk, inarticulate simpleton who gives everyone bear hugs a portrayal than made me squirm with embarrassment at the sheer awfulness of it. It was as if the producers wanted to have (and apologies for this expression) a retard in the film, but lacked the confidence to be fully un-politically correct in this aspiration. Not that Im advocating the use of disabled people as comedic devices, but if you want to go down the route of producing a proper black comedy then you need to be prepared to be a bit edgier with such characterisation. The result was the sort of two-dimensional slapstick idiot that wouldnt look out of place in a film such as Home Alone.
This is not to say that Death to Smoochy was all bad. There were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments (notably Smoochys wonderfully earnest song my step-dads not mean, hes just adjusting) and some of the one-liners and snippets of satire hit the spot well enough to satisfy my inner cynic. I did enjoy seeing the vision of childrens entertainment as like the darker side of Toon Town in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, run by dissolute adults who see children as nothing more than wallets with pigtails although it never quite manages to capture this vision quite as well as the Simpsons do with Krusty the Clown. The supporting cast (notably Pam Ferris and De Vito himself) did sterling work, and to be fair there were some brilliantly conceived ideas in this film interspersed through the weaker areas. Despite helping to put the nails in Film Fours coffin and failing to secure a cinema release in the UK, I think Death to Smoochy does deserve to be given a chance I only paid £2 to rent it for the weekend and I was happy that it was money well spent, despite the lack of extras on the DVD. I wouldnt buy it (currently going for a modest £4.97 on Amazon.co.uk), but I would be prepared to watch it again if it turned up on TV, something I wouldnt do for a lot of films I have seen.
Ultimately, Death to Smoochy is a quite good film that lacked the courage of its convictions to become a very good satire.
Recommended even if you may not love Smoochy to death.
We all know that kids TV shows today arent as good as when we were little. Despite being a sprightly twenty years old nostalgia has already set in regarding my fond kids TV programmes of old. Growing up with the likes of Button Moon and Danger Mouse then later on Knightmare and Reboot are enough to get me yearning for more of them with regards to whats on now. So, what has this got to do with Death to Smoochy? Well the film is set in the world of childrens TV and its a typical TV show for kids these days, sickly sweet, annoying characters and screaming kids aplenty. The film doesnt focus on this too much (thankfully) but delves deeper into the seedy underworld working beneath the glossy exterior.
Death to Smoochy begins with showing us Americas most loved kids TV host Rainbow Randolph. Although he pretty much looks like a paedophile in his get-up the show is insanely popular so popular that Randolph (Robin Williams) can afford to take advantage of his fame. However after taking a false bribe by undercover cops his career is left in tatters, he is without a job, a home and money. The network commission a new show and Smoochy or Sheldon Mopes (Ed Norton) comes in. Sheldon is the polar opposite of Randolph, he really does care about the children, is sickingly nice and is very moral. This doesnt sit well with a number of people. The network who want to milk the Smoochy franchise are not too keen on free products to kids. Randolph is hell bent on destroying Smoochys good name. Sheldon also falls fowl to an underground syndicate of henchmen who want their cut of Smoochy as well. All too soon Sheldon is discovering that kids TV isnt all about singing songs and smiling all the time.
Unfortunately as quirky as it sounds Smoochy just doesnt come close to delivering what you might expect. I was looking forward to seeing this film, I love black comedies and the whole story perked interest but, after watching it, I felt it missed the mark too many times. The fact is that Smoochy is just too ordinary. For a film with a fairly original concept to turn into a bog standard good versus evil film is painful to watch. It fails to dig really deep into the subject matter, sure there is a criminal underground hell bent on exploiting the kids but this isnt ever used enough nor with much imagination, just your typical gangster types speaking stupidly and a few threats carried out. What is worse is that this film is painfully predictable.
The whole love affair with Sheldon and his boss Nora (Catherine Keener) is like something from a high school drama and a bad one at that. They dislike each other at first but, of course, they really do actually love each other. The romantic subplot bites a massive chunk into the film and, while their acid tongue quips are fairly amusing once they do get together it just doesnt sit well. It wouldnt be so bad if it was done with imagination and a bit of flare but this is the same tried and tested formula of movie dating that weve seen in countless films beforehand and one that doesnt work very well in a black comedy. Another reason youll sigh at the sheer lack of originality of development is the relationship between Randolph and Sheldon. You know what the outcome will be between them and it doesnt make it any less painful when it does actually happen and, I obviously wont give anything away about the ending but, again, it fell flat and was totally uninspired.
The film also seems to be at odds as to what it wants to show us. There seems too much going on at any one time for the viewer and the film to focus on. The revenge from Randolph actually seems to take a back seat as we are introduced to an Irish mobster family wanting in on the act and the mafia-type syndicate. It all becomes too overbearing at times and not as funny as the film will have you try and believe simply because it isnt witty, sharp or as dark as it should be. Effort has clearly been made to stand this film apart from others the concept is there but the rest of the film isnt. Dialogue between characters isnt all that special and many lines fall by the wayside of comedy. The whole kids TV shrouded in shady business has been done better on The Simpsons via Krusty with far funnier outcomes and, lets face it, well all know big companies in the real world are there to make a quick buck out of impressionable kids. There just seems too much desperation injected into the film. DeVito seems to want this film to have cult status thanks to its weirdness but weirdness isnt enough to hold together a plodding and meandering film.
Smoochy isnt entirely without merit though. The film does pick up towards the end even though it seems an effort to get there. The script isnt as good as it should be but there are times when it does raise a smile, mainly thanks to the cast delivering them, and gives us a glimpse at how good the film could have been with the reigns tightened on the writing and less time devoted to the romantic story. Toilet humour is also luckily kept to a bare minimum which is always nice to see as we have enough of that in teen comedies these days. You can also see that the quirky subject matter is trying to come out of the depths of being surrounded by other meaningless plot threads and when time is spent on it the film also perks up. It is a shame that these instances are few and far between and that the film lets itself down so badly during the middle part to leave your finger hovering over the eject button.
Although the cast is credible they dont really get a chance to shine in the movie. Williams is always a bit of a hit and miss affair with me often being a bit too loud and overbearing. Smoochy doesnt give him is usual wacky role in films but nor does it give him the opportunity to put himself across fully. He plays his character well, full of self pity and loathing for the world but he still falls back on his often over the top style of acting which can become tiresome. That said when Randolph is featured in the movie they are some of the most memorable scenes in the film. Norton does well in his sugary-sweet role coming across as annoying but ultimately well meaning its a world apart from his character in Fight Club and the fact that the guy had to perform in some giant dinosaur suit is worthy of some praise. DeVito also mucks in to the film as Sheldons bent agent. Always good for a few laughs DeVitos character does have some good lines and the role is performed well but he isnt entirely convincing as a criminal mastermind. His directing for the movie tries every trick in the book to build atmosphere. Dramatic camera angles, close ups, and lighting all try and come together to make a good looking and effective film. However, again, it just seems to be trying too hard to be stylish and different.
Death to Smoochy is a case of a good idea not followed through. The film sounds interesting and it sounds different. It could have been both those things with better writing and a tighter focus. What we have is a different film with unoriginal ideas heaped onto it heavily to become just another sub-par comedy film. While it may think of itself as a black comedy and Danny DeVito may hope it will rise to cult status in time it is neither of those things. The comedy isnt dark enough (whenever comedy is there) and the cult status at least needs a fair amount of people who love the film. I wanted to like Smoochy as much as the kids in the film do but, like TV stations bringing back your favourite TV characters of yesteryear, it proves an unsatisfying experience.
DEATH TO SMOOCHY IS
An interesting concept
DEATH TO SMOOCHY IS NOT
Ermmm..yeah...right...ahem...so ermmm there's this like kids show, and a guy in a big purple rhino suit dancing around and singing familiar songs with alternate lyrics, and ermm there's this other psychopathic kids show presenter guy who wants him dead because he took his job and everyone who you'd think was really nice is actually really nasty except the rhino guy. If that confused you then I'm sorry, but this movie confused me as well! I'm confused because I think I just sat through Barney meets The Godfather and against all my better judgement rather liked it!!! Death To Smoochy is totally weird, like nothing I've ever seen before and probably won't see again. Thats probably why I liked it - because its just different. Thats not to say that its a great movie, or that you are going to like it even in the tiniest bit because there's an awful lot to hate about it, but that for me it worked! I suppose I would have to say DON'T go and see this at the cinema unless you are prepared for 'oddness', but DO definitely rent it out on video because oddness is cool sometimes! Death To smoochy is a very dark comedy movie set in the cut-throat, backstabbing, just plain evil world of children's entertainment. Rainbow Randolph is the king of the kiddy hour on one of the prime time stations, but he's under investigation. Rainbow Randolf is a foul-mouthed nightmare of a human being who is busted for taking backhanders to get children onto his show in the opening few seconds of the first reel. A replacement is needed and fast - the producers of the show needing someone who they can rely upon, someone so squeaky clean that they know they are safe from more of the same kind of scandal or their asses will be grass as well. They need Smoochy. Smoochy is found putting on a show at the heroine rehab clinic putting on a one man performance with his guitar and a fancy dress costume. Singing "Oh we're gon
na get you off that crack oh yes we will..." to the tune of She'll Be Comin' Round The Mountain to zoned out crackheads is the highlight of his evening, its the old folks home tomorrow... When assistant producer of the show Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) turns up its a dream come true for him - he's been waiting for the time when television stations have 'advanced' enough to be ready for the kind of show that he is able to do...you know like singing that kind of song to crackheads....anyway, I digress. Appauled at the idea of having the eternally optimistic, infuriatingly pious and incredibly naive Smoochy on her hands she bites her tongue and signs him onto the show. The world has a new megastar...in a badly fitting purple rhino suit. Once on the inside though smoochy starts to find out just what kind of business he is in, but still eternally optimistic he carries on regardless, trying to change the world, making sappy speeches and generally having you reaching for the bucket on a regular basis. Stokes and Wells want Smoochy to stand in the background so they can drain the kids dry through the usual shoddy merchandising, but Smoochy refuses to play ball, getting himself an agent called Burke (Danny Devito) and taking over the show as executive producer. Meantime 'Rainbow "fucking" Randolf' (I never heard him describe himself in any other way!) is plotting Smoochy's downfall, or demise, he doesn't care which, a corrupt charity is trying to get a piece of the action and the Irish mobsters are trying to muscle in as well... Death To Smoochy is obviously a satire on the Barney phenomenon and the generally hideous crapness of kids television in general, but as satires go, it feels like an enormous opportunity missed. Danny Devito has a very dark, offbeat sense of humour as his other movie Mathilda will tell you, but here his satire has blunted teeth and very little bite. I like the ide
as here and I did enjoy the movie, but it felt like there was something missing in virtually every scene - none of them had that extra spark to make this an excellent movie, which given the subject matter and excellent cast it perhaps should have been. The ideas are here, but the areas it attacks aren't attacked with enough conviction to have you whooping it on as it does so. Like I said, its all very weird and in some ways quite wonderful. I love the way it tips on its head the kind of world you imagine and presents it in a totally scewed way. Things like charities are seen as the worst of the worst and you better do what they say or you'll find yourself sleeping with the fishes. The charity representatives roll up in big black cars and make you offers you can't refuse in true Godfather style - just great. This kind of dark humour continues throughout, with no seemingly sweetness and light area being left unblackened, but it often feels like its pulling its punches which is quite disappointing. When Robin Williams comes alive in his progressively more manic appearances, Death To Smoochy really shines and lets you know just how good this could have been. Williams is superb in this kind of role and he has been absent from them for far too long, hanging around sickly sentimental offering like What Dreams May Come and other duffers which I haven't been in the slightest bit interested in. Rainbow Randolph played by Robin Williams is great, although he doesn't actually get that much screen time for a lot of the movie's duration. Admittedly he does come across as a number of other Robin Williams characters all mashed into one, one of them so "Mrs Doubtfire" that when he comes out of the shadows I expected a grey wig and fake boobs, but instead he looked more like captain Birdseye! Thats just one guise though because he has many throughout the movie. I just love the idea of sweetness and light entertainers being like a Rainbow Ran
dolf off screen though - whiskey guzzling, chain smoking and littering their speech with countless cuss words. Anthea Turner and Mathew Kelly would fly up in my estimations if those revelations were made about them. I'd love to hear about Mathew Kelly instigating bar room brawl wouldn't you? ;o) Smoochy is one incredibly annoying character at first, motormouthed and just so pious and naive it makes you ant to shake him warmly by the throat, but he grows on you as the movie progresses...if you get that far, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't! With the one supposedly 'good' character onscreen being quite so obnoxious by being TOO good, this movie might just leave you cold. Edward Norton is a good actor, but he's not allowed to do much here other than play the straight guy in a world of crooks. His talents are largely underutilised as are those of Catherine Keener who is superb(and oddly quite sexy but that was probably the beer goggles) in the first section when she's playing the out and out bitch, but then becomes rather limp and lame when she eventually melts under Norton's incessant puppy dog niceness. Danny Devito too isn't in the movie enough to make much of an impact, but of course, he's great when he is. Death To Smoochy is a good movie by my reckoning, but if your not tuned into its rather offbeat sense of fun then you are simply going to hate it, so I think with that in mind I'd be recommending a video viewing as opposed to seeing it at the cinema. For me, it needed to twist the knife a little more when ripping into crappola kids TV than it does, in fact, I'd say it lets it over very lightly indeed! You aren't going to sit there laughing your head off constantly even if you do get into the swing of things but it will raise a few smiles and the occassional giggle for sure. Its certainly a fun movie and very different from the usual by the numbers Hollywood rubbish, but in pulling its
punches it just doesn't quite have that spark it needed.