After far too many years of “Barney,” “Teletubbies” and “Sesame Street” it is refreshing to see a dopey, foam-suited character exist outside of whimsical, trouble-free environments.
“Death to Smoochy” follows this theme of realism in a successful onslaught against the sappy programs marketed toward children.
When children’s television host Rainbow Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is arrested for accepting bribes, M. Frank Stokes (Jon Stewart) searches for a wholesome replacement ? one he finds in Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton).
Donning a purple rhino costume, Mopes hosts the show while Smiley seeks to regain his old job by defaming Smoochy. Along the way, the blissfully unaware Mopes has to deal with the corrupt world of children’s television.
Norton’s role in “Death to Smoochy” is unexpected from an actor known for his dramatic roles.
As a guitar playing Mopes, who becomes a Barney-like Smoochy after donning a purple rhino suit, Norton makes several references to his previous films.
In one of the more amusing scenes of the movie, Smoochy is tricked by a disguised Smiley into performing a set for a Nazi rally, a pseudo-reference to the 1998 film “American History X.”
The juxtaposition of the purple rhino to the Nazi banner and the accompanying shouts of “Heil Smoochy” are what make this scene so wickedly entertaining.
Williams plays the sexually ambiguous children’s television host “Rainbow” Randolph Smiley with a mindset more reminiscent of his early, foul-mouthed comedy specials than his recent, sentimental roles in “Bicentennial Man” and “Jakob the Liar.”
Indeed, one gets the impression that the constant ad-libbing that made the 1978 show “Mork and Mindy” so popular is present in “Death to Smoochy,” as Williams exudes a certain vibrancy that has not been seen in far too long.
Williams and director Danny DeVito share a similar dark humor with each other that meshes together well in the film.
Some of the more comedic moments in “Death to Smoochy” occur with completely unexpected situations, such as when a dancing Randolph runs into a wall or when he jumps a “Save the Rhinos” activist.
This randomness is prevalent throughout the film and makes “Smoochy” easily comparable to other movies like “The Big Lebowski” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
While the lead actors were well cast, one of the biggest drawbacks of the film was that Stewart was underutilized.
From his work on “The Daily Show,” one would have expected a role that allowed more comedic elements to it.
Instead, however, the audience found Stewart constrained by his role as a television executive.
“Death to Smoochy” also features several songs geared toward children containing subtle, humorous messages.
The Rainbow Randolph theme song, for example, includes the lyrics “Friends come in all sizes ? Some like to toss while others to catch.”
Other notable songs in the film are “My Stepdad’s Not Mean (He’s Just Adjusting)” and “Smoochy’s Methadone Song.”
The acting and plot combined successfully in this film, making “Death to Smoochy” stand head and shoulders above other recent comedies like “Van Wilder” or “Crossroads,” which are both humorous for unintentional reasons.
The “Death to Smoochy” Web site (www.
smoochymustdie.com) is even worth visiting, as it, much like the film, universally appeals to the same twisted recesses of the soul.
Schnee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.