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Death To Smoochy

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Death To Smoochy

Starring: Edward Norton, Robin Williams
Director: Danny DeVito
Rated: R
RunTime: 109 Minutes
Release Date: March 2002
Genre: Comedy


*Also starring: Pam Ferris, Danny DeVito, Catherine Keener, Harvey Fierstein, Danny Woodburn, Jon Stewart, Michael Rispoli



Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewvideo review
3.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review movie review
4.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
5.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Back in college days the guys and I at my fraternity used to tune the TV before dinner time to The Mickey Mouse Show featuring Mickey and the Mouskateers. We did because, well, for a couple of reasons. We liked to make fun of the format of a children's show, to sing along with the key refrain "M-I-C-K-E-Y- M-O-U-S-E." Later I got to think that maybe having fun at the show's expense wasn't the real motivation. Maybe we 20-year- olds, stressed out from midterms and finals and long, dull lectures in rooms holding 150 called for some really light entertainment. We actually got to enjoy the squeaky-clean show and never thought that there might be dark, nefarious forces at work such as connections with gangsters and even murderers. Now, decades later, my innocence is destroyed. In a parody of kids' shows (which I never thought deserved to be taken apart the way Danny DeVito does in his new movie), "Death to Smoochy." "Smoochy" would have us believe that producers of kids' shows may be guilty of deeds running the gamut from taking bribes from parents to put their tots on TV to selling products going to bogus charities, actually fronts for organized crime.

When you consider that DeVito is not only one of our most entertaining actors ("Taxi," "Romancing the Stone," "Throw Momma from the Train") but has also directed some class acts like "Hoffa" and especially the biting and almost surreal "The War of the Roses," we may wonder what motivated him to put his name on such an irritating, abusive and actually pointless "satire" as "Death to Smoochy" which sets up a straw man (children's shows, or all subjects) and knocks it down. If his aim in using Adam Resnick's unsubtle script is to parody the genre the way other productions such as "Quiz Show" have taken aim on the corruption behind the TV games, where is a shred of evidence that such activity exists behind the scenes?

The big problem here is that the film is dumbed-down, patronizing an imagined audience that would not be able to sit still and pay attention unless Anastas Michos' camera used the most garish colors not just occasionally but throughout the movie's 105 minutes without a single break. The gangsters are cartoon cutoats, and Harvey Fierstein, so amazing in a stage debut decades ago that introduced Matthew Broderick to the world, is bloated and downright embarrassing to look at. Worst of all Robin Williams, endearing in "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Moscow on the Hudson" has now reached a low in his career, just when you thought there was only up to go after his smarmy role as the title character in "Patch Adams," excruciatingly sentimental in "What Dreams May Come" and unsubtle in "Jakob the Liar."

Robin Williams is featured as Rainbow Randolph, aka Smoochy, a fun guy in a rhino costume with a top-rated TV show who gets busted in a sting operation for accepting a bribe from a "parent" who wants her kid on the show. The sponsors look for someone to save the program and go with a talent to project its freedom from corruption and find their men in the third-rate entertainer, Sheldon Mopes, because Mopes is squeaky clean. A vegetarian and health faddist who believes that while children's shows should entertain they should also have salubrious messages for the tots, he is conned by an agent, Burke (Danny DeVito), who is in cohoots with gangsters. Nora (Catherine Keener), the show's producer, is not above shady dealings herself and tries to move Sheldon into the real world.

The movie is far from a complete loss. Though I hated to see Robin Williams as the incarnation of evil, an envious has-been determined to murder his replacement, some of the numbers are performed enthusiastically, so that we can understand what the children see in their hero and DeVito directs with a strong hand, keeping the action moving at a swift pace albeit without much time for a rest. Edward Norton and Catherine Keener have zero chemistry as a love match, and while Keener does not have the kind of script she deserves (read: anything by Neil LaBute), she comes across as the only principal in the show with her feet on the ground.

If "Death to Smoochy" were aimed more directly at the selling of shoddy, ephemeral, movie-related stuff by studio marketing departments, we'd have something to chew on. Maybe a sequel could go after the movie theaters themselves that push flagrantly overpriced popcorn and soda at the captive audience members who think that it's uncool to sit still without chomping away while the stories unfold. But this is not that picture.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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