By Christian DiMartino
Danny Devito’s Death to Smoochy kind of lives in infamy. It was blasted by critics upon its initial release, hence why I put off seeing it until around the time of Robin Williams’ unfortunate passing. My verdict: They’re right, it is kind of terrible. But it’s also funny as hell, if you’re into that sort of thing (which, I guess I am).
Devito is the king of dark comedy. I mean, have you seen The War of the Roses? Or Throw Momma From the Train? Or even Matilda? He has a great knack for finding characters and exposing their zaniness, even if they end up taking it to extreme lengths (for example, the climactic showdown in The War of the Roses, set upon a chandelier).
Death to Smoochy continues such a tradition, and sure sometimes you sense the film is trying too hard to be innovative. I personally admire Devito’s attempts to give us something different. Does it always work? No, but it’s still funny and crazy enough.
Williams plays one of his darker roles here. He plays Rainbow Randolph (I know, how dark), a Mr. Rogers-esque kids show host… by day. By night, he takes bribes from parents, who want their kid to be on the stage, and what not. He’s busted, and soon Rainbow Randolph is no more. The studio, KidNet, begins searching for a new show.
Catherine Keener plays one of the head executives at KidNet, who has a sexual fascination with kids show hosts. Hence why she is kind of drawn to Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton, playing goofy innocence to perfection), a happy-pappy guy who performs in a dinosaur costume down at a methadone clinic. His creation is Smoochy, a purple rhino (Huh, rings a bell). She senses that he’s a bit of a doofus, but hires him anyways.
In the meantime though, Randolph doesn’t take his hiring well, and soon he does everything in his power to destroy Smoochy. At another end of the spectrum, Smoochy gets involved with these philanthropists, who ask him to put on an ice show. Thing is, Sheldon wants the show to be free. So, soon they are also trying to take down Smoochy.
This all sounds ridiculous. That’s because it is. There are many times where I shake my head in disbelief when I watch Death to Smoochy, but you know what? The weekend I rented it, I watched it four times. There is just something about it. I guess I find its ridiculousness intoxicating, hence why I’ve seen it again since.
It is a stupid movie, for sure, but it’s funny. Williams is over-the-top, but that’s what the movie demands from him. Norton is under-the-top, which fits as a good contrast. Here we have this really nice guy (“When we played Cowboys and Indians I was always the Chinese railroad worker”) who hasn’t the slightest clue of what is actually going on around him. It works like a charm. Keener plays her usual self, but she’s so good at it.
The only thing that kind of bugs me about Death to Smoochy is a character named Spinner, played by Michael Rispoli. Spinner is a mentally challenged boxer who befriends Smoochy. Oh yeah, and his family is also a group of Irish mobsters. The Spinner character feels unnecessary, mostly because he doesn’t contribute a single funny moment. As terrible as this might sound, he’s pretty damn obnoxious. We’re not really laughing at him or with him. He actually makes me cringe, every time I see it. That being said, his fate is more than hilariously justified.
Hate all you want, but I say Death to Smoochy is pretty funny. Stupid, yes, but funny. Am i proud to admit such things? No. But sometimes, you have to just face the music.