Death to Smoochy

Directed by Danny DeVito

(Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart)





Dante’s Sixth Level of Hell is, of course, Children’s Programming. With it’s impish denizens and flame-prodded screams, there really is no other place more frightening, wretchedly bizarre, or insane. Danny Devito’s new directorial product (and, hopefully, his first good one) is Death to Smoochy, a film that plunges its caustic sword deep into the underbelly of that medium.

Robin Williams (who really needs this movie after Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar, and Bicentennial Man) is “Rainbow Rudolph,” a Captain Kangaroo of today. An indecent cover-up is exposed and after a tabloid slathering, Rainbow falls hard. Filling his coveted time slot is newcomer Sheldon Mopes and his creation, Smoochy (Barney with a message). As he dances, sings, and shuffles, Smoochy funnels environmentally conscious and unbridled humanitarian messages through his songs and into the children. Mopes beseeches corporate executive Nora Wells (Catherine Keener), “I have over 300 songs in the Smoochy songbook, from the deliciousness of vegetables to the importance of donating plasma.”

All the fiendish while, Rainbow Rudolph is planning his comeback and, inherently, Smoochy’s demise. This is where the film gets dark. Robin Williams (who unleashes a fury of swear-powered threats and soliloquies that would make any Brooklyn longshoreman proud) does a masterful job teetering on the threshold of lunacy. Both his smirking sinistry and physically charged humor of Williams’ repertoire are warmly welcomed.

Ed Norton is Ed Norton. And while the others in the film (Jon Stewart, Harvey Fierstein) add nothing, Norton brings the same punch to every thing he’s involved with. With Smoochy, it’s just another tallymark he ought to rack up.

The script is smart and solid. Adam Resnick (a former writer for Letterman) knows how and when to use his money lines. In fact, the writing was so bitingly funny that it was hard for me to only use one quote in this review. The rest, I’ll leave for you to enjoy in their chosen mode.

– Sean McGrath


Death to Smoochy opens Friday in theaters nationwide.