Director: Danny DeVito
Release Date: 29 March 2002
Running Time: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Editorís Rating: 4 out of 4 stars.
I am really trying to make an attempt at going into advertising. By that I mean I got a full-time gig in advertising right out of the gate, got the rug pulled out from under me before I could even take my shoes off and get comfortable, and have been trying to scratch a niche for myself since, because it's a fun and exciting thing to do with an English degree. The reason I bring this up is that for the regular person, advertising seems kinda... silly. Sure, Mad Men and coincidentally The Crazy Ones romanticize the experience, but if you've ever been enchanted, or even curious about an industry, the easiest way to come smashing back to reality is to work in it. Ever think that going out to eat is an enjoyable experience? Work as a dishwasher in your favorite restaurant. Think the telemarketers that call you for money are shady? All it takes is one day working with them to realize you were giving them far too much credit.
Now don't get me wrong - I love what I do. I think up ideas and concepts, give them a backbone, teach them to walk, and when my baby is off to its first day of school, I go back to work on the next project.
However, Death to Smoochy is about children's shows. You know, the ones you plopped your toddler in front of when you needed a moment to yourself - Yo Gabba Gabba, Barney, Bear In the Big Blue House, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood - and the movie wastes no time in exposing its underbelly. As such, DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN WATCH THIS MOVIE. That being said, we can move forward.
Robin Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, a Bozo-the-Clown-meets-Raffi type of kid's show host. He's secretly been taking bribes to get paying children's parents the chance to sit on the special chair, a spectacle at the beginning of every show. When he's caught taking the bribe, his show is immediately cancelled as his name and reputation is raked across the coals of public opinion. He immediately goes from prince to pauper, which exacerbates his already heavy drinking habit.
Meanwhile, his network is scrambling to find someone to take his place, but choices seem slim as every other kid's show host they could use has some demon hiding in their closet. The talent scouts, played by Jon Stewart and Catherine Keener, regrettably come to the realization that their only choice is Sheldon Mopes (played by Ed Norton), a genteel guy currently working methadone clinics as his character, Smoochy the Rhino. Mopes, against the tradition of all who came before him, seems to have a purely altruistic outlook to his profession, and sees it as his duty to educate and grow young minds.
Keener's character Nora is the closest and most jaded to Sheldon - she's seen one too many corrupt and seedy hosts to believe he's the real thing. This blossoms into a seemingly obligatory love interest, but it takes a rather odd twist. Keener's abrasive personality is in top form here, and makes for a cute, if not a bit one-dimensional foil to Norton's saccharine Smoochy.
As the plot unfolds, twisting and curving into the deepest, grimiest back alleys of children's television, Rainbow Randolph spirals into a deep depression which evolves into hatred for "The RHINO." It's here Williams displays full control of his character, delivering bitingly funny and witty lines with ease while at the same time evoking a little empathy for what is, at the character's core, a somewhat decent if not a lot creepy, person corrupted by (I'll never get tired of saying this) the evils of children's television. He's hilarious and sad, manic and caged, enraged and submissive, and it never once seems as unbelievable as the movie's premise.
If there's one thing Danny DeVito likes more than starring in the movies he directs, it's darkness. The movie introduces us to shady character after shady character, to the point to when we see Vincent Schiavelli as another disgraced kid's show host, it just seems a little contrived. The cynical and wry tone this movie strikes makes Sheldon Mopes seem more like Jesus than the cheeseball he is, which just plays up the absurdity of it all. The film flies off the rails towards the end, which is really saying something considering where it had taken us beforehand, and after it wraps up, the audience is treated to an ending that they were in no way prepared for, but schmaltzy as it is, it's cute.
Just like a children's program.
**This movie is a proud piece of my personal collection, and I wrote this review to celebrate the work of a legendary comedian who left us far too soon. I was not paid for this review, but felt obligated to share it nonetheless. I'm going to miss you, Robin, just like everyone else, but I couldn't begin to tell you how important you were to my appreciation of comedy and of movies in general. Some say if you can make 'em laugh, you can make 'em pay attention. I can say I never took my eyes off you while you were onscreen, save for when I was crying from laughter. I'm going to miss you so much.**