Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Danny DeVito’s Death to Smoochy back from the dead.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
Director: Danny DeVito
Starring: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener
IMDb rating: 6.4
Metacritic rating: 38
With all of the awful cookie cutter comedies that flood the film market, it is unfortunate when one as highly entertaining and simply hilarious as Death to Smoochy slips through the cracks. Death to Smoochy is not a comedy built from slapstick gags – it is a black comedy that stems from great character development and vulgar (yet creative) dialogue/interactions of said characters. The screenplay, by Adam Resnick, is executed to perfection due to fabulous acting and slick direction.
The story is simple: kid’s show host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) loses his job for accepting bribe money and is replaced by Sheldon Mopes AKA Smoochy the Rhino (Edward Norton). For much of the film, Randolph attempts to sabotage Smoochy to get his old time slot back, while other supporting characters attempt to manipulate Smoochy into becoming a money making machine.
Robin Williams goes against his typical image and hearkens back to his raunchy, expletive-laden standup routines of the 1980s
Robin Williams is at his absolute best as the sleazy and psychotic Rainbow Randolph, who’s hellbent on destroying Norton’s Smoochy. The usually family-friendly Williams goes against his typical image and hearkens back to his raunchy, expletive-laden standup routines of the 1980s (coincidentally, Williams netted himself a nomination for Worst Supporting Actor at the Razzie Awards for this film). On the other hand, Edward Norton, as the naive and lovable Sheldon/Smoochy, makes a complete turn from earlier roles such as the murdering white supremacist Derek Vinyard in American History X and The Narrator in Fight Club.
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Rounding out the rest of the characters are the hardened yet charming KidNet producer, Nora Wells (Catherine Keener), Marion Frank Stokes (Jon Stewart), and Sheldon’s agent Burke Bennett, played by the film’s director, Danny DeVito (who is absolutely hilarious, mind you). Every supporting character, from corrupt director of the Parade of Hope charity, Merv Green (Harvey Fierstein), to heroin mule/hitman Buggy Ding Dong (Vincent Schiavelli), are perfectly cast and do nothing but enhance the insanity in the already absurd plot.
To quote Roger Ebert’s scathing review, “Only enormously talented people could have made Death to Smoochy.” No arguments there
Together, Rainbow Randolph and Sheldon steal the show. Randolph hatches the most asinine plots to sabotage Smoochy, such as baking penis-shaped cookies to be used on Smoochy’s television show and tricking Sheldon into playing a concert at a Nazi rally (certainly a nod to Norton’s role in American History X). Randolph’s plots, while sophomoric in nature, are uproarious due to Williams’ twisted performance and gel perfectly with the visual style of the film. The happy and vibrant colour scheme is contradictory to the absolutely repulsive exploits of Death to Smoochy’s characters – these conflicting visual and character/story developments make for a perfect storm of comedy, repugnance and sleazy charm. DeVito is a competent and intriguing filmmaker with a knack for finding these stimulating aesthetic choices.
High profile film critics, such as Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, blasted Death to Smoochy upon its release. At the end of his review, Ebert stated, “In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant.” But this is the charm of the film. Death to Smoochy’s characters are so vile that it is simply ridiculous how far they go to emotionally batter others. To relate to these individuals is to miss the point of their existence. These people are the scum of the earth, and the comedy, from this raunchy yet sweet film, comes from their collective misfortunes. To quote Roger Ebert’s scathing review of the film one more time, “Only enormously talented people could have made Death to Smoochy.” No arguments there.
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All images: Warner Bros