Death To Smoochy

on March 29, 2002 by Michael Tunison
   Parents of TV-addicted toddlers and others who have secretly fantasized about ending the life of a certain pudgy purple dinosaur now have a movie to warm their hearts, courtesy of actor-filmmaker Danny DeVito. Relentlessly malicious in the manner of DeVito's “Throw Momma from the Train” and “War of the Roses,” the black comedy “Death to Smoochy” certainly isn't for everyone, but there's much sinister fun here for those who appreciate its unapologetically twisted excesses.

   The “Barney” meets “Network” satirical plot is set into motion when manic kids' show host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) is busted for accepting bribe money from parents hoping to get their tykes on his program. Desperate to find a replacement for the disgraced Randolph's now-vacant time slot, execs from the network (Jon Stewart from TV's “The Daily Show,” “Being John Malkovich's” Catherine Keener) take a chance with a bottom-rung song-and-dance man (“Fight Club's” Edward Norton) whose painfully earnest act as the fuchsia-colored rhino “Smoochy” at least doesn't seem to pose any risk for further scandal. But when “Smoochy's Magic Jungle” becomes a surprise hit, an increasingly insane Randolph devotes himself to wiping “that one-horned carpetbagger” from the face of the Earth.

   The wandering, unevenly structured “Smoochy” eventually overstays its welcome, losing much of its momentum in its too-long final act, but Adam Resnick's screenplay and caustic song lyrics (set to tunes by composer David Newman) supply some wickedly funny moments along the way. Williams has flashes of his old comic genius as he dives into his character with malevolent glee, seemingly trying to make up for the string of warm and fuzzy roles from his recent “Patch Adams” phase in one bile-dripping villainous binge. As with past DeVito efforts in the genre, opinions are sure to be polarized over how amusing the overall package is, but there's no denying the filmmaker has accomplished the “dark” part of his dark comedy mission. Starring Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart, Harvey Fierstein and Michael Rispoli. Directed by Danny DeVito. Written by Adam Resnick. Produced by Andrew Lazar and Peter MacGregor-Scott. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Rated R for language and sexual references. Running time: 108 min

Tags: Starring Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart, Harvey Fierstein and Michael Rispoli, Directed by Danny DeVito, Written by Adam Resnick, Produced by Andrew Lazar, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Warner Bros, Comedy

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