- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

"Death to Smoochy" seems to be begging for a critical throttling. Robin Williams, the single most annoying grotesque in a gallery of show-biz monsters, even makes the specific request: "Put me out of my misery."
Don't mind if I do.
Like Spike Lee's proudly outrageous and repulsive "Bamboozled," "Smoochy" mistakes itself for a satirical juggernaut aimed at the corruption of mass-entertainment programming on television. The object of polemical derision on this occasion is a struggle for dominance in kiddie shows.
The title alludes to a fuchsia rhinoceros called Smoochy, a Barney the dinosaur variant. It's the brainstorm of a sweet-natured crusader named Sheldon Mopes, portrayed by Edward Norton. His benign sincerity comes to the rescue of a top-rated kids show, "Rainbow Randolph," initially headlined by Mr. Williams' crazed character, Randolph Smiley. Randy is a vain money-grubber exposed as a scurvy extortionist in a sting operation mere minutes into the plot.
Randy has made a racket of chiseling bribes from the parents of tykes eager to be part of the peanut gallery on his show. Nailed by federal agents, he is banished by a fuming, unbilled Robert Prosky as the boss of KidNet Television. Sheldon, a fringe entertainer, is plucked from obscurity by desperate programming executives (Catherine Keener and Jon Stewart).
The tyro catches on and survives repeated sabotage attempts by vindictive Randy. Improbably, to put it mildly, the rivals become last-minute confederates to foil an assassination attempt. It's not exactly a brilliant outline for satirical sport. The methods of screenwriter Adam Resnick and director Danny DeVito reflect an aggressively defensive stance. They believe only massive malice will get the mocking job done. As a consequence, the slapstick bludgeons spectators into cringing surrender while the dialogue deafens them with obscene invective.
It would be easy to get the impression that "Smoochy" was launched solely to satisfy a pent-up need in Robin Williams to shout profane curses on a movie soundtrack. As a practical matter, allowing Mr. Williams to bellow and wallow permits Mr. Norton, as Sheldon, to seem like a prince of a guy because he's mild-mannered and clean-spoken.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers need to play dirty. For example, Randy is allowed to booby-trap one telecast with phallic-shaped cookies. What a scamp. Then he lures Sheldon to a Nazi rally that purportedly makes the victim a national pariah for a few days. All these exaggerations begin with the idea that "Rainbow Randolph" would be a popular show. On the contrary, it is a garish eyesore that looks as if it would creep out little children, not to mention their mothers.
"Smoochy" is the kind of overcompensating thing that embittered or self-loathing entertainers may need to get out of their systems. Advisers ought to insist that they carry the impulse no further than a pitch meeting, which then can live in legend as the funniest movie never made.

TITLE: "Death to Smoochy"
RATING: R (Frequent, vociferous profanity; systematic comic vulgarity; occasional graphic violence and sexual candor; fleeting drug allusions)
CREDITS: Directed by Danny DeVito
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

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