Death To Smoochy

As mentioned in the One Hour Photo review - Robin Williams is back!!!! This film could have been called Death To Crap Family Films, as it's another step in the right direction for Robin Williams career. He's doing what he does best - dark comedies and letting himself go nuts. Directed by Danny DeVito, it's much in the flavour of War Of The Roses and is quite dark at times.

The story starts with Rainbow Randolph, a top-rated kiddies TV show host, getting busted for selling guest spots to parents who want their children to be in the 'best seat' on the show. As a result he gets fired and the studio executives want a replacement who's totally clean and wholesome. Executive underling, Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) is tasked to find this replacement.

She unwillingly discovers a cuddly purple rhino called Smoochy, the alter ego of Sheldon Mopes (Ed Norton). Mopes enjoys his job and spends his time providing entertainment at a children's day care centre and a drug rehabilitation clinic. His attitude is completely happy and likes to think that his sensitive songs are bring joy to all who listen (generally bored children and druggies). He's incredibly na´ve and an unbelievable idealist.

Smoochy is hired by Kidsnet to burn the memory of Rainbow Randolph into a forgotten past. Unfortunately Randolph was kicked out of the studio penthouse and is homeless. He doesn't take kindly to the fact that he's been fired and replaced so decides to take revenge on his replacement.

Mopes has his own problems too. He's too squeaky-clean and refuses to play ball with the studio's huge merchandising machine. Instead of fizzy drinks, he wants pure orange juice and doesn't want to do appearances where the public is charged. This lands him in the firing line of Merv Green (Harney Fierstein), the boss of the 'Parade Of Hope' - the roughest of all the charities and the one Mopes refuses to do.

Green tries to bring Smoochy round by various methods, originally through his sleazy agent Burke (Danny DeVito) and then by setting some thugs on him. Mopes still doesn't cooperate so a contract is taken out on him. Luckily for him, the local Irish mob has taken him under their wings. This is due to the fact that their ruthless leader Tommy Kotter (Pam Ferris) has a retarded ex-boxer son who is a huge Smoochy fan and has landed a part on the show due to Smoochy's kindness on him.

On top of this Rainbow Randolph is slowly sinking deeper into depression and insanity as attempt after attempt to discredit the rhino fails. He finally snaps and gets a gun as he's 'going on SARAFI!!!!!!'

This dark comedy shows the sordid underbelly of family shows and the 'alternative' interest that they have - such as greed and glory - not the entertainment and education of children. The centre point is that an ethical man would have difficulty staying true in a world of corruption, especially when faced with the public eye. Also how that man would be rudely awakened with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of TV shows. DeVito does hit the satirical nail on the head many times, but misses it too. There's a fair amount of violence in Death To Smoochy but most of it is not graphic.

Performance wise; its great to see Robin Williams cut loose, being loud and crass and generally sinking into insanity again. He reminds me a little of the character he played in The Fisher King (without the niceties or the sympathy). Edward Norton is good too - but his 'goodie' character of Mopes does grate at times. You feel that no one is that naive or unaware of the realities of the real world. Catherine Keener does well as the hard-nosed studio executive who also happens to be a kid-show host groupie!

The film did not do all that well in the States, but I suspect that it might do better over here. Dark comedies tend to do better internationally and more so in Europe. The film is harsh, sick and twisted, but it has enough one-liners and satire to tickle the funny bone and it's great to see Robin Williams back on form too. It's a good film about children's TV shows that shouldn't be shown to children!

Score 7/10