Death To Smoochy

The world of children’s television shows is often filled with magic, glitter, and fairy dust as reality is given way to fantasy to the delight of children everywhere. While the antics of some of the characters and the music and merchandising give parent’s headaches and the occasional homicidal fantasy, most parents let the fantasy play its course until their children grow to other interests.

When the lights and music fade however, the reality behind the magic is not always as happy as it is portrayed, such is the life of Rainbow Randolph, (Robin Williams), a top rated children’s show host who is knocked from his lofty perch when he accepts a bribe from undercover fed posing to get a child on his show.

Reeling from the scandal, the network places the task of finding a replacement that is squeaky clean in the hands of M Frank Stokes (Jon Stewart), and Nora Wells (Catherine Keener). This is no easy task as most of the available candidates have issues ranging from drugs, assault charges and drinking to name a few. Desperate to save their jobs, Stokes and Wells reluctantly settle on Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a Rhino impersonating, tree hugging, milquetoast who makes vanilla seem wild and daring. His character Smoochy becomes a gigantic hit and this drives the desolate Rainbow Randolph to the brink of madness, as he sets out to take down his replacement and regain his crown as the king of kid shows.

While this should have been a recipe for a laugh fest, “Death To Smoochy” soon gets lost in crime subplots and much repetition. Williams is sadly missing from large portions of the film as his presence elevated each of the scenes he was in though sadly not nearly enough. Norton is good in his role but his character is very bland and has few changes throughout and this gets old very quickly. The supporting work by Keener, Pam Ferris, and Danny DeVito, (who also directed), are very good but cant make the film step above its muddled pacing.

What could have been a frantic and inventive comedy loses momentum as large gapes occur between Williams’s antics. For example there is a sensational moment when Williams frames Smoochy only to have it followed by several scenes of Norton moping about his bad fortune. The momentum was gained briefly when Williams is shown celebrating his success and is lost when the story moves back to the show.

Dark comedies can be very difficult to do and even harder to sell to the public. Just look at Jim Carrey’s brilliant turn in the little watched “The Cable Guy”, however “Death To Smoochy” suffers from a lack of Williams, repetition, and many of the characters are never fleshed out. We have no idea why Mopes has his views and we have no inkling as to why Randolph would seek to take bribes and not having any money despite being the top rated show.

This could have been a comedy classic, and the talent and ideas are there for all to see and that is what makes the final product so frustrating as opportunities for character growth and humor were left out in favor of several scenes of the characters in bars, restaurants, meeting, and wandering New York that did little to enhance the plot but a lot to kill the potential of this great film idea.

2.5 stars out of 5