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Bop this baby

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[Photo: Warner Bros.]
Edward Norton, a vision in fuchsia, comes under attack by the man whose job and girlfriend he stole, played by Robin Williams, in Death to Smoochy.

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 28, 2002


Death to Smoochy succumbs to too many scenes of the kooky rhino mite.

Ask any parent who has suffered the bland purple dinosaur with the goofy voice: There's something inherently funny about the concept of offing Barney.

Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), a leprechaunlike former children's television star in the uneven comedy Death to Smoochy, feels our pain. He wants to assassinate Smoochy, the fuchsia rhino given to lectures about the value of good nutrition and we-are-family songs, including My Stepdad's Not Mean (He's Just Adjusting).

Kids love the relentlessly cheery one-horned creature, and his creator, young go-getter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a hopelessly optimistic, four-square entertainer often heard dropping quaint exclamations like "Hold the phone," "I'm really in a pickle" and "How do you like that?" The new show, despite Mopes' apparent imbecility, has rapidly risen to the top, trouncing the competition and landing its star on the cover of Variety.

Randolph wants to make the rhino extinct, and not just because the character and his creator are so annoying: Mopes has usurped the older man's job, his lavish penthouse digs and his ex-girlfriend, programming executive Nora Wells (Catherine Keener). Gone, too, is his auxiliary income; the FBI busted Randolph for taking bribes from parents in exchange for guaranteeing their children a spot on the show.

Danny DeVito, so adroit with the dark humor of The War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train, doesn't work the same magic with Smoochy, penned by Adam Resnick, a former writer for David Letterman and late-night satire The Larry Sanders Show.

DeVito and Resnick have crammed their movie with quirky, over-the-top characters, absurd situations, color-saturated sets and off-putting camera angles.

Randolph is only one of several bad guys intent on destroying and/or manipulating the naive Mopes. He also contends with a duplicitous agent (DeVito), a corrupt network head (Jon Stewart, with a Caesar haircut), a gangster (Harvey Fierstein), a drug-addicted former children's television star (Vincent Schiavelli) and a brain-damaged boxer turned nominal restaurateur (Michael Rispoli).

The settings include a methadone clinic on Coney Island, where a prefamous Smoochy sings an antiheroin ditty to the tune of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain; a television studio, where the fuchsia one sings, gives positive messages and dances with the help of costumed midgets and small children; and a neo-Nazi rally in New Jersey (don't ask).

For the finale, there's an encounter between a hit man and his target at an ice rink (actually the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto), a numbskulled comic variation on similar sequences staged by Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. During the "Smoochy on Ice" show, the star retells his life with the help of a descending angel, dancing Nazis and a lady Viking belting out Puccini arias. Self-consciously wacky? Yes. Funny? Only on occasion.

Death to Smoochy

  • Director: Danny DeVito
  • Cast: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart, Harvey Fierstein, Pam Ferris, Michael Rispoli
  • Screenplay: Adam Resnick
  • Rating: R; profanity, violence, sexual innuendo
  • Running time: 105 minutes

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