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Death to Smoochy

  Death to Smoochy
Much to the nation's chagrin, Ed Norton gets in touch with his inner Smoochy.

© 2002, Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

It's really too bad that "Death To Smoochy" (IMDb listing) is coming out now, as the wave of blacklash over children's programming such as "Barney" has already washed to shore. Like the premise, the direction and a lot of the jokes, "Smoochy" is old news. It's an excessive, madcap comedy that will have you reaching for the aspirin as soon as you get home.

Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is the number one children's television host in America. That is, until he is caught accepting illegal cash and is replaced by Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his big purple rhino character named Smoochy. With the help of his producer (a predictably sardonic Catherine Keener), and evil agent (Danny DeVito), Sheldon takes Smoochy to the top of the rating list, thus enraging Randolph. Wanting his life and job back, Randolph starts an all out war against the purple rhino that involves the Irish Mob, bloodthirsty charities, a punch-drunk former boxer (hilariously played by Michael Rispoli), a heroin-addicted kiddy show host, and Sheldon himself, who tries to keep his pure ideals for his show from being corrupted by the merchandise-crazy industry he works in.

Today's Hollywood is sorely lacking directors with vision, filmmakers who can go out there and capture a world without any Earthly boundaries. "Death To Smoochy" is a film with a vision. A dark comedy with sharp enough bite to chomp through steel, "Smoochy" has a vision the size of a continent, and that's amazingly where the problem lies in the film. Danny DeVito is a furious director, leaving no extreme angle or easily telegraphed pratfall unused, often rather aggressively. So, as you venture into this cutthroat world of children's television, the picture gets so wrapped up in itself that you feel a bit left out of the fun. The film certainly enjoys itself, with the gags coming a mile a minute. And the actors seemingly relish the chance to let loose, especially Williams, who has been cooped up in gentle pictures for far too long. But their fun is not contagious. And as DeVito piles on the characters, visual gymnastics and subplots, the energy and sheer scope of the film gets exhausting, to a point where you almost can't look at the screen anymore.

But I ask, what are we looking at that's so funny? The "Barney" overtones in "Smoochy" are beyond played out. And the rest of the jokes range from flopping down flights of stairs, the tried and true comedic use of Nazis (this just barely worked as a gag in last summer's "Rat Race," but not in "Smoochy"), to Williams making a "Wassup!" reference. A little too late, Robin. DeVito and screenwriter Adam Resnick also seem to think that watching Randolph curse like a sailor on shore leave is the most hilarious idea ever. Yet another comedic theme that doesn't work in "Smoochy." DeVito puts no boundaries on the comedy, therefore the bodyslam effect of the dated humor is frustrating instead of uproarious. I'm all for madcap comedies that careen wildly out of control (the upcoming Barry Sonnenfeld comedy "Big Trouble" works just fine doing the same thing), but such a film needs a center that the comedy can anchor on to. Since DeVito has jettisoned the story for a plethora of gags, there is nothing for these limp jokes to fall back on. Unless you're still hanging on to your "Barney" rage from 1995, I don't think there's much to tickle your funny bone with "Death To Smoochy"

I apologize for not being in the Edward Norton fan club, but the troublesome actor has crossed a dangerous line in "Smoochy" in that he thinks he can carry a comedy by himself. While Robin Williams is top billed and filled with raging energy, it is Norton's Sheldon that is the center of the storm, and carries the most screen time. While I can respect Norton and his dramatic work, the man is no comedian. He's way out of his comfort zone in "Smoochy," and it's very painful to see him try to make his jokes fly with Williams's ease. Norton, who in a weird decision, has adopted Woody Harrelson's manner of speaking and body language, falls flat on his face every time he opens his mouth. As if his past comedy "Keeping The Faith" wasn't bad enough, Norton tries again to turn the world on with his smile, and expectedly drops the ball. Dramas, Edward. Stick with what you know.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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