A review of  Death to Smoochy” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, violence, sexual references

Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

 

 

It takes a twisted sensibility to appreciate a blacker-than-black comedy about perverse TV superheroes and the corrupt shenanigans of children’s television.  Color me twisted.

The story begins with Randolph Smiley, aka “Rainbow Randolph” (Robin Williams) at the top of his game – a monstrously-high rated kid’s TV show, a Times Square billboard plastered with his crazy mug, and the upscale accoutrements of stardom.  Greed rears its nasty head when Randolph develops a taste for under-the-table bribes from pushy stage parents wanting to get their kids in on the televised action.  Undercover feds smell payola and bust Randolph for bribery, effectively turning the beloved children’s icon into a TV pariah.

Kidnet’s brass need a squeaky-clean replacement, and fast.  Enter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a harmless, ethical cornball who’s bringing down the house at the neighborhood methadone clinic with his buoyant, guitar-strumming Smoochy; a furry, fuchsia rhinoceros with a perpetual smile and a heart of gold.  Smoochy quality - chock full of integrity and honor, and just what the network needs to wipe clean the stench of scandal.

Smoochy and his midget Rhinettes are an overnight sensation with the network and the TV audience.  Everyone loves Smoochy, except for Nora Wells (Catherine Keener), the network’s cynical senior programming executive (who likes the ratings but not Smoochy’s veggie-pushing, ethics-wielding persona), and the downtrodden Randolph, who doesn’t share America’s enthusiasm for Kidnet’s rising star.  Randolph’s interest is of a more hostile nature – to seek out the “bastard son of Barney” and make him extinct.

The downside of this crazy patchwork quilt of a movie is that there’s entirely too much going on.  Subplot upon subplot add unnecessary confusion and a high quotient of silliness – layering Irish mobs upon smacked-out assassins and corrupt New York charities. But at its core are two very funny men in a potentially hilarious situation. 

Williams gives his strongest comic performance in years, ad-libbing his way through anger, drunken resentment, and agonizing regret with witty one-liners and crude, relentless monologues.  Norton holds his own as a mellow soul trying desperately to resist the vicious underbelly of fame.  He refuses to push plastic toys and refined sugar on his innocent fans, and sees his TV kids as people as opposed to wallets with pigtails.  Underneath Smoochy’s complacent exterior is a burgeoning fire kept at a low simmer by anger management courses and a decent heart.

What a relief to have something provocative to laugh at for a change. Think “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” meets “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. Smoochy’s love for soy dogs with spirulina spread and his disdain for cheap commercial endorsements.  Smoochy’s one man ice-opera chronicling his dramatic rise to stardom.   Randolph’s clever attempts at sandbagging Smoochy’s do-gooding career.  Kooky color schemes and crazy, discordant musical numbers add to the fun of this weird, vulgar comedy that’s definitely an acquired taste.