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Laramie Movie Scope:
Death to Smoochy

A dark comedy about kids TV shows

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 1, 2002 -- "Death to Smoochy" is a dark comedy about graft, corruption, murder and other dirty dealings regarding a popular childrens television show. It is not as polished as Danny DeVito's earlier dark comedy, "War of the Roses," but it is entertaining in its own edgy way.

The story begins with popular kid's show host Rainbow Randolph (played by Robin Williams of "Bicentennial Man") getting busted by the feds for accepting bribes. Kidnet executives order a "squeaky clean" replacement. The cleanest guy they can find is Sheldon Mopes (played by Edward Norton of "Fight Club"), who goes by the name of Smoochy the Rhino. Mopes is idealistic, naïve, upbeat and enthusiastic, just what the executives wanted.

In a funny scene, Mopes is found playing at the opening of a drug clinic, singing a song about addiction (Norton wrote and sang his own material in the film) to a bunch of stoned clients. The network designs a new rhinocerous outfit for him and sets him up in the prime network spot formerly held by Rainbow Randolph. Smoochy is an enormous success. Ratings are sky high. Not everyone is happy about this, though.

The mobsters, agents and crooked network executives who were all getting lucrative kickbacks from the show aren't happy and neither are the junk food and toy manufacturers who aren't getting their piece of the action. In the way of all this greed stands Mopes, who is opposed to cheap toys and junk foods, and he won't have any part of kickbacks, either. He remains squeaky clean. At first, the network executives try to marginalize him, but he learns to use his ratings clout to wrest back creative control of the show. Smoochy is not dumb, he remains idealistic, but learns to adapt. Rainbow Randolph becomes insanely jealous of Smoochy's success, so he carries out various schemes to try to oust Smoochy. The mobsters contemplate more violent schemes. The consensus: Smoochy must die.

Just when you think Smoochy is going to be one of those one-joke sitcom movies, a couple of big plot twists show up to radically change the direction of the story. Pretty soon, you don't know where it is headed. It is a pretty wild ride. People are shot, a man's head is chopped off, awful things are done with a man's private parts, all in the name of comedy. There is also some very rough language. Some critics will probably complain this comedy is not dark or edgy enough. Trust me, it is plenty dark and edgy. As Robin Williams is quoted as saying about this film, "We all want to make a film that we can take our kids to ... but this is not that movie." It is not all dark, however, there is some sweetness to it, enough to redeem its darker elements. Some critics will probably complain that the film is torn between the elements of dark comedy, upbeat comedy and romance. I think DeVito knows just when to pull back from the brink of darkness and chaos. It is a pretty good blend of romance and dark comedy.

Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Danny DeVito all turn in fine performances, and Catherine Keener of "Simpatico," who plays network executive Nora Wells with a vicious edge, is very effective. Vincent Schiavelli of "Man on the Moon" turns in a very funny supporting performance as a kids show host gone bad. Harvey Fierstein of "Independence Day" is good as mob boss Merv Green. The other supporting characters are also quite good, including a family of Irish mobsters and some dwarves.

The fuscia rhinoceros costume of Smoochy has more than a passing resemblance to Barney, a popular kids show character. Another movie in-joke bit has Smoochy being framed as a Nazi sympathiser. This refers back to Norton's earlier role as a neo-Nazi in "American History X." There is a very funny Smoochy on Ice extravaganza in the film that is hauntingly similar to some of the more outrageous scenes in "The Producers," with hordes of strange characters bearing swastika banners. Some of Rainbow Randolph's fancy skating stunts in the film were performed by skating star Elvis Stojko (Norton did his own skating). It is an uneven film, to be sure, but it is still a lot of fun. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)