Geez, I am so fucking sick of Robin Williams. Like many people, I
thought he was a riot in the beginning. But slowly, without ever really
trying, I broke his manic stand-up act into its component parts. His
"dazzling comedic magic" is one-third broad impressions (the thunderous
evangelist, the mincing gay guy, the squealing child, etc.), one-third
pop culture references (many of them dated) and one-third jokes (a few
great ones sprinkled in with lots of duds), all delivered with the
intensity of a ranting speed-freak.
As an actor, Williams has turned in some nice performances – his wistful
turn in "The World According to Garp" was pleasantly naïve and his work
in "Good Will Hunting" was strong and assured. But as time went by, his
sappy leanings grew more and more pronounced, leading to "Patch Adams"
and "Bicentennial Man," two of the most insufferable pieces of
unfiltered bathos I have ever endured.
And now comes "Death to Smoochy." Having explored so many other
approaches to being the party guest that arrives with a lampshade
already on his head, Williams' latest tactic is the full-on assault. As
demented kiddie-show host Rainbow Randolph, he is the personification of
all things obnoxious; screaming, quivering, dancing and leering at the
camera as luridly as he can manage. To be fair, his character is
supposed be repulsive, but Christ, does he really need to be so damned
good at it?
"Death to Smoochy" is a satire directed by Danny DeVito, and I use the
word "satire" loosely, as the main target of the film is a character
that resembles the plush purple dinosaur, Barney. Tackling Barney in
2002 – how daring! Where will you aim your bold comedic sword next, Mr.
Following a remarkably unfunny opening musical number, the production
joins Rainbow Randolph as he gets popped for accepting a bribe from
parents anxious to get their child on his hit TV show. After booting
Randolph off the air, a pair of executives at KidNet (Jon Stewart and
Catherine Keener) are so eager to find a squeaky clean host that they
turn to Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a starry-eyed type that dons a
hot-pink rhinoceros suit to become Smoochy, role-model for all that is
Things almost get interesting here, as we get a look at Sheldon. The
young man is a die-hard vegetarian opposed to chemicals in food. He
champions kindness, reflection and good citizenship. Only the
hard-hearted would mock his values, so DeVito goes after his guileless
nature, silly songs and the costume. Edward Norton's approach to Sheldon
is intriguing; there is something simmering beneath all the idealism. At
one point he confesses to Keener's character that he came up with
Smoochy while attending an anger management class. Unfortunately, the
screenplay fails to do much with this juicy revelation.
The Smoochy show is an instant hit and Sheldon, attempting to prevent
the network from slapping his creation's name on junk foods and shoddy
merchandise, secures an aggressive new agent (DeVito). Smoochy becomes a
showbiz powerhouse, unaware of the dark forces around him. His agent is
in league with a gangster (Harvey Fierstein) and they want to get
Smoochy on the lucrative ice show circuit, where they can rake in money
through a bogus charity. Meanwhile, Randolph, gone completely insane, is
out to rebuild his empire by ridding the world of the pink rhino.
Much as I'd like to, I can't simply write off "Death to Smoochy." There
are many dreadful things in this film: Robin Williams' career-low
performance, the stale pop culture references (Randolph bursts into a
room and shouts "Whassup!" in one particularly cringe-inducing moment),
the off-putting "wacky" camera angles and Jon Stewart's painfully passé
Caesar haircut spring to mind.
But Edward Norton and Catherine Keener somehow manage to rise above the
dull, unrelenting vulgarity. In Norton's hands, Sheldon is endearing,
from his statement on his non-violent nature ("When we were little and
my brothers played Cowboys and Indians, I was always the Chinese
railroad worker") to his heartfelt song, "My Stepdad's Not Mean (He's
Just Adjusting)." And Keener finds a way to keep her character
believable and even sympathetic, despite the unevenness of the script.
Would I watch "Death to Smoochy" again? Yes, but only on DVD, secure in
the knowledge that I could fast forward past anything that even faintly
resembles Robin Williams and watch only Edward Norton and Catherine
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott