3 1/2 Stars
Death to Smoochy falls right in line with director Danny Devito’s warped sensibility. It’s an often hilarious black comedy that focuses on the cut-throat world of children’s television programming. Robin Williams gives one of his sharpest (and meanest) comedic turns as the once famous children’s star Rainbow Randolph. The obvious target in Death to Smoochy is Barney, but the film is smarter and more ambitious than settling for easy jokes, it skewers the entire world of merchandising, tie-ins, Ice Capades, and congenial celebrities.
After an FBI sting brings down the crooked host (Robin Williams) of a popular children’s show, a network executive (Catherine Keener) is tasked with finding a squeaky clean replacement that won’t cause trouble. They discover Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) who has created the character, Smoochy and is ready to bring it to the masses. Smoochy is a hit and the naive Sheldon is quickly thrust into a complicated position as his upright ethics are constantly being threatened by those around him. All while Randolph continually tries to wrongfully expose Mopes and in turn, Smoochy, as a fraud.
Danny Devito’s track record as a director is a mixed bag, but Death to Smoochy is one of the high points. It’s a mean-spirited comedy that contains some of the funniest scenes Robin Williams ever put on film. His mercurial Rainbow Randolph persona is the antithesis of Ms. Doubtfire. There is an uncomfortable under-current to seeing Williams douse himself in gasoline and threaten to take his own life, even if it’s presented to comedic effect as it is here. Norton’s wide-eyed optimistic approach to his character is a welcomed counter-balance to the manipulative, lying, murderous others that populate the picture. Death to Smoochy is a small film with some truly big laughs.
Director: Danny DeVito
Stars: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener