Death to Smoochy (2002) — Someone in Hollywood really hated Barney

“You want your little booger eater on my show?”

PoolMan’s rating: At last, a mascot you can kick in the crotch and not feel bad about it!

PoolMan’s review: You know you’re in for a rough time when you go to the movies on a Monday night by yourself, you walk into a theater with two other people (ALSO by themselves, not together), and the movie you came to see opens with a painfully bad musical number involving Robin Williams in a rainbow jacket and two pounds of makeup. Such is the joy of Mutantdom, folks.

I was asked a few months ago what movies I was anticipating in 2002. I looked at the list of releases, and happened upon one little title called Death to Smoochy. I read up on it, and found an amazing little concept flick that sounded great. Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) loses his job as a corrupt kids TV show host, replaced by the sickly sweet Smoochy the Rhino (Edward Norton), and goes on a psychotic killing spree to try and take out his replacement. Talk about a funny concept for a dark comedy. The only problem is that for the most part, it’s not dark enough, it’s not funny enough, and when it manages to be either, it’s way over the top.

Let’s start with the basics. A dark comedy, as we’ve explained time and again here at the Mutant Reviewers (why don’t directors ever listen to us?) has to have two aspects to make it work. First, it has to be dark. Check. Beheadings. Loveable characters killed. An attempt at self-immolation. Depressing, but accomplished.

Second, it also has to be FUNNY. So many movies load up on the black stuff that they forget that laughter is kind of required to ease the tension. So you end up with a pile of bleak scenes that don’t spark any comedy, and when gags finally DO show up, they’re so weak it’s brutal. At several points, I was reminded of the feeling I got when I watched Very Bad Things, and if you know me, that’s not a good thing.

I can’t believe the number of stereotyped groups they exploited for this too. I was trying to sum it up for my girlfriend (who wisely decided she was too busy to go that night), talking about all the little clichés they used, and I realized they pretty much ran the gamut. Midgets, children, the Irish, Nazis, drug addicts… nothing’s sacred in a movie about kids’ TV. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand this movie is all about the irony of such dark characters in and around the business of children’s entertainment, but it just wasn’t effective. Particularly the bad guys. The heavies working for the Parade of Hope weren’t at all threatening to me, and when your villains don’t work, what’s your hero got to struggle against?

And if all this weren’t enough, director (and star) Danny DeVito makes some of the weirdest technical decisions I’ve seen since Battlefield Earth. There are weird dissolves everywhere… one particularly strange cut goes from two characters’ heads to a pair of raw oysters, for some reason. Batman angles are everywhere too, I half expected Adam West to come bounding out in an elephant suit.

Death to Smoochy isn’t a total wash, there were moments worth seeing. I can honestly say that the “Stepfather Song” made me laugh louder than anything I’ve seen in theaters in the last year. Honestly, I was busting a gut and missing dialogue for a couple of minutes after the song ended. But one great gag and a series of jokes that try WAY too hard for far too little payoff do not a memorable comedy make. If you’ve got the patience to make it through 100 minutes that feel about 30 minutes too long, you may enjoy this. But I sure as hell didn’t.

Kyle’s rating: Just because it’s “unique” and “daring” doesn’t make it good, people!

Kyle’s review: Now I don’t mean to cast stones at targets when I live in a glass house and I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying, but I blame the film Being John Malkovich for a whole lotta suffering. Don’t get me. I think BJM is a wonderfully inventive and deliciously twisted film. But when a film makes a big splash like BJM did, it “inspires” others to try their hand at that sort of thing (because hey, we can market it as being in the same vein and we have a built-in audience!) and invariably the knock-offs are just like the foreign superhero figures at California fairs: made of poor plastic with bad coloring that break and/or melt as soon as you open them. Bleh.

I could be off base, but I think the “dark” and “twisted” and “purple” aspects of Death to Smoochy were hugely inspired by recent successes by dark and twisted films, but in trying to inject humor into the mix the whole soufflé just collapsed and we got served a pathetic pancake instead. Edward Norton and Robin Williams have moments (if the focus stayed exclusively with the hairy psychotic Williams, then we would be having fun!) but the story is lame and the plot points that were supposed to be charming and extraordinary are instead just blatant attempts to be more unusual than the next guy. If you want to set the movie in a garish alter-reality, sell it to us more effectively!

You might get something out of this as a rental, but don’t be too bummed that you missed this at the theater. In fact, wait for cable. I’m begging you. We still like our irony and dark humor, just wrap it up in a better package next time, Hollywood!

Didja notice?

  • I’m not a regular Jon Stewart watcher, but TELL me that’s not his real hair! Benedictine monks have better do’s!
  • Blue mustard?
  • Late in the scene where Burke introduces Sheldon to Spinner, Burke takes bread from the plate in front of him. Naturally, it alternately disappears and reappears.
  • Rainbow’s wandering accent in the car was probably done on purpose to illustrate his growing mental issues, but it’s still weird.
  • The Stepfather Song! I HAVE to get a copy of that!
  • Before the end musical number, when Nora and Sheldon are on the street, you can see the headlines scrolling behind them clearing Rainbow of all charges. This explains the musical number at the end. Unfortunately.
  • Rocket ship cookies… yikes.
  • Tommy implies she’s not going to kill Burke and Stokes, and then asks them if they’ve ever travelled together before. But the movie never reveals their fate. At all.
  • When Rainbow dumps gas all over himself, he lights a match, and miraculously, it doesn’t ignite the fuel!
  • Sheldon says that he was born on the day “Sesame Street” premiered, and gives that date as November 11, 1970. In fact, it premiered almost exactly a year earlier, November 10, 1969.

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