Saturday, June 6, 2009

Death to Smoochy

My sister and I have very different taste in movies. For example, she loves the **** Movie 'spoofs,' and I would rather insert live porcupines up my rectum than watch Meet the Spartans. But sometimes she introduces me to magic, like The Forbidden Zone, so I know better to ignore her recommendations. Besides, she's one of the 3 people who read this blog, and I heartily believe in pandering to my audience.
Death to Smoochy is that rare dark comedy out of Hollywood; producers rarely have the balls to be mean enough to make a good cruel comedy, and while it was reviled by critics, I think it is underrated. I'm not a big fan of Robin Williams, but Ed Norton is amazing as Smoochy the Rhino, the kid show TV star he plays eerily like Steve from Blues Clues with a country accent. This came along at the end of the Barney hate era and probably felt a little old, but that's not what it's about, so the backlash was misdirected.
Robin Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, a creepy kid show star who dances and sings in a white sequin suit surrounded by munchkins- but he's gotten too big. He gets caught taking payola to let kids be on camera and loses it all, and execs Marion Stokes (Jon Stewart, in a rare film role) and Nora (Catherine Keener from The 40-Year Old Virgin) need a new star. Nora finds a guy named Sheldon (Norton) dressed in a gamy rhino suit playing acoustic guitar in a Coney Island dive to support the local drug rehab clinic. And a star is born!
Smoochy gets a new suit and skyrockets to stardom, while Rainbow Randolph seethes in misery, blaming the rhino for all his problems. Now this could be your typical revenge farce, but director Danny DeVito makes it about the commercialism of children's television as well. Much of this works, but it's just not cruel enough. We see Smoochy get shot in the opening, but they pull a switcheroo on us. Robin Williams is surprisingly good as the obsessed Rudolph, but the movie doesn't live up to his intensity.
It's not really a shock that children's TV is all about money; my generation grew up watching shows that were really just toy commercials, and the Transformers franchise continues to pull in the dough. The ending lacks punch, and is too pat. The good guys aren't supposed to win so handily in a dark comedy; it's got to hurt. That's not to say this underappreciated movie doesn't have plenty going for it. It's sort of The Cable Guy for Williams; he needed to shrug off the smarm he collected from Patch Adams, and making a bunch of phallic cookies to sabotage Smoochy's show, and then apoplectically bursting in to yell "IT'S A COCK!" when the rhino says it's a rocketship, is just the thing.
There's also a punchy boxer named Spinner Dunnwho loves Smoochy, and he's played just right by Michael Rispoli, right on the edge of discomfort. Catherine Keener is enjoyable as the exec whose heart of stone is melted. But anyone who's been forced to sit through children's television will enjoy the broad satire of the genre. Danny DeVito knows how to do dark comedy, like Throw Momma from the Train and The War of the Roses, but he got a little soft here. But seeing Ed Norton play a silly folk singer in a rhino suit, and Robin Williams losing it makes for some good entertainment.

Rating: Worthy


Revolverkiller said...

Henry Rollins auditioned for the role of Spinner, look for his spoken word on you tube its hilarious!!

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