Death to Smoochy
One of the most ill-reviewed movies of 2002, Danny DeVito's dark comedy Death to Smoochy comes nowhere near deserving the thundering condemnation which it received upon its theatrical release. Edward Norton stars as Sheldon Mopes, an idealistic, socially conscious do-gooder who entertains children and junkies as Smoochy the Rhino, a big, purple, pedagogical, Barney-esque song-and-hugs entertainer. And when a powerful children's television network is rocked by yet another PR-wilting scandal, program executives (Jon Stewart and Catherine Keener) desperately enlist the squeaky-clean Smoochy to revamp their tarnished image. Excited by his new opportunity, Mopes struggles to deal with the cynical marketing machine at work within the industry and runs afoul of the organized crime elements behind the scenes. The newly beloved purple rhino also becomes targeted by unbalanced and disgraced former host Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams). It's irrefutable that some of Death to Smoochy's gags clumsily collapse, big laughs are few, and the ironic idea of adult dysfunction within the colorful world of novelty television has been done smarter and funnier (in the TV series The Simpsons) and more shockingly brazen (in Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles). That said, there are a few good laughs in Smoochy (the bizarre, pretentious, funereal ice show is near-brilliant), and where there aren't laughs the movie often hums amusingly along thanks to DeVito's capably comic P.O.V. and some terrific performances by Norton and Keener. Overall the film is too weird for mainstream audiences and too mainstream for cult appreciation; it would have been stronger had screenwriter Adam Resnick (Cabin Boy, The Larry Sanders Show) chosen to satirize more aggressively the content of children's programming, which is presented in a blandly straightforward manner save for one very funny song about stepparents. DeVito also appears in the film as Smoochy's cutthroat agent, along with Harvey Fierstein as a deadly charity master and Vincent Schiavelli as a junkie hitman. Death to Smoochy is presented by Warner in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. DeVito and accomplished cinematographer Anastas Michos discuss their poorly received film in a spirited commentary track, full of entertaining tidbits, including the fact that, as part of his method, all of Norton's street costumes were made from hemp. Also included are 10 "cool" deleted scenes of negligible value, five still galleries (including the oddball "Smoochy's Summer Vacation"), a seven-minute featurette, a gag reel, and trailers. Snap-case.