Benjamin’s Stash

We’re coming after Barney and Blue’s Clues next! Academy Award winner Robin Williams and Academy Award nominees Edward Norton, Catherine Keener and Danny DeVito star in Death to Smoochy.

Death to SmoochyCast of Characters:
“Rainbow” Randolph Smiley – Robin Williams
Sheldon Mopes/Smoochy the Rhino – Edward Norton
Nora Wells – Catherine Keener
Burke Bennett – Danny DeVito
Marion Frank Stokes – Jon Stewart
Merv Green – Harvey Fierstein
Spinner Dunn – Michael Rispoli
Tommy Cotter – Pam Ferris
Buggy Ding Dong – Vincent Schiavelli

Director – Danny DeVito
Screenplay – Adam Resnick
Producer – Andrew Lazar & Peter Macgregor-Scott
Rated R for language and sexual references

“Rainbow” Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is a children’s television host that loses it all when he’s busted by an FBI sting for taking bribes from parents who want their kids on the show. Needing a more squeaky clean image to undo the damage Randolph’s tainted reputation left on the station, network exec Marion Frank Stokes (Jon Stewart) sends his producer Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) to track down the next big thing for kids: Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), aka Smoochy the Rhino.

Enraged with jealousy over Smoochy’s newfound fame and desperate to have the spotlight back, Randolph schemes to bring down Smoochy by any means possible.

I was late to the Death to Smoochy party. The movie was a box office bomb and practically everyone and their brother seemed to hate it (the movie has, since then, developed a cult following), so I really had no interest in seeing it when it first came out. However, a couple years afterward a friend of mine, whose opinions on movies I generally trust, recommended I see it. I gave it a watch, and came away kinda loving this movie.

In fairness, I can totally understand why many don’t like this film. Its humor is quite dark and bleak, which is expected from Danny DeVito. But to those that know me or read any of my reviews on here, you should know by now that I’m warped enough in the head to where I’m one mommy issue and sexual deviancy away from being classified a serial killer, so it should be no surprise that I find this to be right up my alley.

Death to Smoochy probably would’ve been utter crap if not for the talented cast and a proven director with this genre at the helm. As I just said, director and co-star Danny DeVito is no stranger to dark humor, as previously seen in his two best directorial efforts out of the ’80s, Throw Momma from the Train and The War of the Roses. Here, DeVito and writer Adam Resnick combine their twisted visions to create a clever satire on kiddie commercialism and the cutthroat, ruthless world that lies behind the curtain on children’s television and even within your favorite non-profit children’s charity. The way DeVito, through cinematographer Anastas N. Michos, distinguishes the colorful and giddy atmosphere of the children’s shows from the dreariness of what goes on behind the scenes is a nice visual touch.

Not all of Resnick’s jokes stick. There’s maybe a scene too many of Michael Rispoli’s brain damaged boxer Spinner; however, the ones that do stick are laugh-out-loud. I feel compelled to not spoil any for you ’cause there are a few that come out of left field in a good way, but I will say Smoochy’s educational song, “My Stepdad’s Not Mean, He’s Just Adjusting” is one of the highlights.

Despite some standout work throughout the ’90s such as The Fisher King, The Birdcage and Good Will Hunting, the decade still proved to be hit or miss with Robin Williams, mostly in the mid to latter half. Surrounding Good Will Hunting and The Birdcage were Jack, Father’s Day, Jumanji, Jakob the Liar, Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams and Flubber, all of which were either not that good or flat out atrocious. 2002 was not only a comeback year for Williams, but as I mentioned in last week’s review of One Hour Photo, he ventured into darker territory, not just with drama but with comedy as seen here. He’s downright nasty as “Rainbow fucking Randolph!!”, the embittered drunk of a children’s TV host who will literally do anything to reclaim the spotlight. It’s not just that it was refreshing to see Williams take his comedy down to bleaker depths that we haven’t quite seen him do, at least not like this. It was also the fact that Williams was, in a way, poking fun at his own childhood icon image that he earned throughout the ’90s.

Williams may be the top-billed star here, but both Edward Norton and Catherine Keener get just as much screen time, if not even more than Williams. Norton, miles away from Derek Vinyard here, effectively handles the tricky task of making Sheldon Mopes seem genuinely kindhearted and sweet, and not just some insufferable, self-righteous dope. As Smoochy’s shrewd and cynical producer, Catherine Keener has some great back and forth banter with Norton.

The main misstep DeVito and Resnick take is with the ending that, while not horrible, sorta cops out. Thankfully, they don’t commit one of my big film pet peeves with the tacked on lecture at the end. This film is unapologetically dark, yet I still wish they went all in by giving us an ending that was just as crude as the rest of the film.

Dark, irreverent, yet also aware of its own goofiness, Death to Smoochy may not be the best of Danny DeVito’s directorial efforts, but it’s still one of his better offerings. The main reason to see this, though, is Robin Williams, who shed his more upbeat style of comedy to unleash a darker, cynical brand of humor that’s been dying to come out of him. The result is the funniest he’s been in years.

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