Review: Death to Smoochy

The concept of Death To Smoochy might be a dream-come-true for anyone who has ever had the grave misfortune of having the image of Barney travel across his or her optic nerve, or heard his make-you-want-to-shoot-yourself-in-the-face-with-a-bazooka singing. But alas, there is more to this movie than just killing Smoochy.

The movie begins with Rainbow Randolph Smiley, beloved children’s show host, being fired for a nasty payola scandal. After Rainbow Randolph is taken off the air, the network execs scramble to find a squeaky-clean replacement. Their solution: Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a 20-something Ned Flanders wannabe, who sincerely wants to make the world a better place. Before the network execs get to him, Sheldon is making his way in the world by dressing up in a handmade rhino suit and singing to addicts at a methadone clinic.

Overnight, Mopes’ Smoochy the Rhino becomes a huge success, getting Randolph’s time slot, money, and even more ratings. Now this bugs our pal Randy just a little bit, and he vows for revenge against his fuchsia-colored replacement. However, he doesn’t just want plain ol’ “I want my job back” revenge. Smoochy must die.

As much as I hate to do this, I must preface the rest of this review with a warning. THIS IS NOT YOUR NORMAL CHEERY COMEDY MOVIE. This movie is dark, rude, and Robin Williams swears more times than I’ve ever heard him swear in one movie. And on top of that, trailers be damned, Death To Smoochy is not actually a Robin Williams movie. This is an Edward Norton movie, with Robin in not much more than a supporting role, but it’s a damn good one nonetheless.

Like I said, this movie is dark. Well, the first half-hour is REALLY dark. Quite a few people walked out, and I found myself thinking, “Oh man, this is twisted…” almost to the point of not liking it. Well if you can make it past the convoluted and slow-paced first thirty minutes, you are in for a definite treat. This movie is the most unique and imaginative I have seen since Memento, and has some of the most genuinely original humor I’ve seen in a long time.

The best aspect of this movie is the acting. A considerably less-buff Norton (than he was in American History X) is an absolute treat to watch onscreen, like in any of his movies. Sheldon Mopes is a rather pitiful person, at least by normal people standards. He is one of those won’t-do-anything-bad people: soy dogs, gluten-free buns, alfalfa sprouts, no alcohol, so on. However, he is a truly good person, and really wants to help people. His motto is something along the lines of, “I can’t change the world, but at least I can make a dent.” At first I felt bad for him, but as the movie progressed, I found myself liking and admiring him a lot. He may be a naïve sap, but his heart is in the right place.

Now, Robin Williams. Oh. My. God. I think the old Robin Williams is back. Robin has two movies currently out and one about to be released: Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo, and Insomnia. One Hour Photo, so far only shown at the Sundance Film Festival, with—to my knowledge—no plans for wide release, is about an employee of a one-hour photo lab who becomes obsessed with a young suburban family through their photographs. Due to its limited release, I have not yet seen it, but have heard that Robin plays a very dark and malevolent character. In Insomnia, also starring Al Pacino and Hilary Swank, Robin plays a sadistic killer, very against his norm. Not having seen these two movie, I can easily say that with Death to Smoochy, I have never seen Robin Williams like this. I’ve seen bits of how nasty he can be on Leno and old standup videos, but this is a whole new Mork from Ork. Rainbow Randolph Smiley has some serious issues, and with Robin portraying him, you can see just how warped he is. I have always liked Robin Williams’ movies, even those that weren’t reviewed too favorably. More than once in this movie, Randolph goes from raving lunatic to a bawling infant in a matter of seconds. Most people probably would discard this as Robin Williams playing an idiot really well, but I beg to differ. I personally feel that he is a very fine actor, and his growing versatility in his roles continues to impress me. I just wish he was in this movie more, because when he is onscreen, he just shines.

Now the movie was not all great. There were a few parts where I was a little confused by the editing, and as in all comedies, a few jokes fell flat. However, Death to Smoochy, overall, is a very interesting movie. But, many people will not like it. I quite enjoyed it, but “black comedies” like this often have trouble finding an audience. If you feel that you take this film, I encourage you to go and do so.