A million kids.
And one dead purple Rhino.
Danny DeVito has carved a niche for himself in Hollywood by playing either frumpish sad sacks or unscrupulous scoundrels. While we all may remember him as Louie from the hit show Taxi, others might recognize DeVito as a fairly successful director whose credits include the hit The War Of The Roses, the wonderfully titled Throw Momma from the Train, and the biopic Hoffa. In 2002, DeVito both starred in and directed the dark comedy Death to Smoochy, a tale about the dangers of becoming a children's cultural icon. Starring Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo), Edward Norton (Primal Fear, Fight Club), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), and Jon Stewart (Mixed Nuts, Comedy Central's The Daily Show), Death to Smoochy arrives on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Rainbow Randolph (Williams) was one of the best loved daytime kiddies show hosts on television. The operative word here is "was." You see, Randolph was caught taking bribes from parents wanting desperately to have their tykes on Randolph's show. Subsequently, Randolph was fired from his job after the scandal hit. When the station finds itself without a popular host they turn to Sheldon Mopes (Norton), creator of the schmaltzy, organically minded Smoochy the Rhino. This doesn't bode well for Randolph, who thinks that Smoochy is—to put it nicely—the Antichrist ("Smoochy is the face of evil!" Randolph quips). At the same time Mopes is sparring with Nora (Keener), a jaded studio executive who seems to have a "thing" for kid-show hosts, over product endorsement and creative control of the show. After she brings Smoochy on board, things start to really heat up when a sleazy agent (DeVito), a sneaky station manager (Stewart), and a ruthless charity owner (Harvey Fierstein, Independence Day) all desire a piece of the Smoochy pie (which is really raking in the profits). Throw in a band of Irish mobsters, some neo-Nazis, and a TV show host-turned-crack dealer played by Vincent Schiavelli, and you've got one of the strangest, most inexcusable comedies this side of Freddy Got Fingered.
There have been worse comedies than Death to Smoochy, though not many in recent memory. Actually, let me correct myself: Death to Smoochy isn't so much a bad comedy as it is a really, really misguided one. While the idea of making fun of sappy, saccharine sweet kid show hosts (ala Barney the Dinosaur) may have seemed funny on paper, well…cinematic execution is a whole 'nother beast altogether. Actually, when you stop to think about it, making fun of things like Barney and the Teletubbies isn't all that original—since everyone and their mother has cracked a Barney joke, that shallow well seems to have run dry. Maybe if someone had come up with a crackling screenplay it could have worked.
Death to Smoochy isn't that movie. It's supposed to be a dark comedy, though the subject matter clashes too loudly with the humor to be pitch black. How can you let out a sinister chuckle when your TV is filled with more colors than Rainbow Brite's bowel movements? Death to Smoochy wants desperately to find laughs in the murder of a man in a rhino suit, and comes up snake eyes. It's just not that funny. Sure, there are humorous moments—whenever Robin Williams is left to rant and rave he's bound to spew forth some witty one-liners. These moments are few and far between. The screenplay is by Adam Resnick (who wrote and directed the awful yet bafflingly entertaining bomb Cabin Boy) and just doesn't cut the butter when it comes to comedy. While watching Death to Smoochy, I had a hard time trying to pinpoint why the jokes just didn't work. They are all well executed, yet lack the devious punch needed to make this a bitingly good film. We're supposed to laugh heartily when Rainbow Randolph runs into a wall…and some stairs…and other inanimate objects. I share with the filmmakers my first rule of comedy (which I am making up as I go along): Rule #1—Having a man run into things more than once isn't funny. However, Resnick isn't the only one who shares the blame—DeVito as the director is also at fault for the odd way this movie plods on and on. Normally I've enjoyed DeVito's films—Throw Momma from the Train and The War of the Roses are two very funny, wicked comedies that feature sharp scripts and grand performances throughout. Years down the line DeVito may be known as a famous director of some of the best comedies ever made. If a book is ever written about him, Death to Smoochy may be the sole film whose chapter starts: "And then we come to Mr. DeVito's dark period…"
If nothing else, you've got to give the guy credit for pulling together a first rate cast for a first rate bomb. Robin Williams is the ideal person to play Rainbow Randolph since Williams, in some alternate universe, could have easily turned out to be a kids show host. His performance here is sometimes funny, though often veers off course. Since the script doesn't ever really give Randolph any concrete character traits, Williams plays him as a complete loon. Edward Norton is also a fine pick for Sheldon, a man so good-natured that even Mother Teresa would have felt dirty while standing next to him. Norton finds the right tone for Sheldon—geeky. Then again, if the highlight of your day was wearing a heavy rhino costume I guess you'd be kind of a goober as well. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Jon Stewart and Harvey Fierstein, two actors who are given little to do in this film but show up and collect a paycheck. I do have to give DeVito props for using Vincent Schiavelli as a crack dealer. Talk about on-the-money casting.
As abysmal as Death to Smoochy is, it's not nearly as bad as one may suspect. I did laugh a few times, and that's more than I can say for half of the comedies released today. However, the laugh-to-silence ratio here is this low…real low. I'm interested in seeing what DeVito's follow-up film is. Let's all just put Death to Smoochy and hope for a better next time.
Death to Smoochy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Warner has done a very presentable job on this print, making sure that all of the colors and black levels are solid and well saturated. Aside of the smallest amount of edge enhancement, I found this image to be exceptionally nice. Since Death to Smoochy was produced only a year ago, this isn't much of a surprise.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Okay, so Death to Smoochy isn't an effects heavy film, but that doesn't mean the soundtrack isn't well produced! The 5.1 mix on this disc utilizes directional effects when needed (especially during Rainbow Randolph and Smoochy's respective TV shows), and the track is clear of any hiss or distortion. While this won't blow away your home theater system, it works very well within the confines of the film. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
For a film that drummed up so little box office revenue, it's surprising to see how much work went into this edition of Death to Smoochy. The following is a rundown of what's on this disc:
Commentary track by director/co-star Danny DeVito and director of photography Anastas Michos: "It's been, I guess, a few months since the release of the movie, so the mourning period is over." This is how the commentary starts off, so at least we know that Danny DeVito knows the public just didn't "get" his movie. Oh well. DeVito is a very chatty guy who enjoys lavishing accolades on what seems to be the entire cast and crew from the film. This is a decent commentary track with a few funny anecdotes from the production…and DeVito being overly sentimental.
Behind-the-scenes documentary: This was a rather interesting piece that featured a ton of footage from the production. While there is no narrative, the shots showing how the special effects were achieved was quite interesting. Oddly, this isn't a typical featurette with talking heads—not a single interview by any of the cast or crew is included here.
Deleted scenes: Ten deleted scenes are included, each presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. In front of each scene is a title card that explains why the sequence was left out of the final film. While some of these scenes are interesting, overall they wouldn't have added much to the final film.
Outtakes and blooper reel: Just what it sounds like: a reel of flubs by the cast and crew. Some of these are actually fairly funny. And boy does actor Danny Woodburn use the F-word a lot.
Interactive ice show: This is one of those interactive deals where YOU, the VIEWER, become the director! Actually, this is far less exciting than it sounds. All you get to do is watch the ice show (which is boring) and flip from angle to angle using your remote control. Fun for all of eight seconds.
Magic cookie bag: This turns into a sub-menu of still galleries. Included on that menu are the following archives: "Behind-the-Scenes Stills," "Production Design," "Costume Design," "Other Art Materials," "Production Stills," and "Smoochy's Summer Vacation." The latter is a slideshow featuring a Smoochy doll from the film traveling the world. Weird.
Trailers and cast and crew information: Three theatrical trailers are included, plus some filmographies on the principal lead actors.
As Rainbow Randolph might say, "People come in all shapes and sizes." So do bad movies, and Death to Smoochy is one of them. I can only recommend this movie if you want to see why it did so poorly in theaters (which, sadly, is why I sit through many, many movies). Otherwise, it's a skipper.
Death to Smoochy is found guilty of being unfunny even with the inclusion of dancing midgets! Court dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Director/Co-Star Danny DeVito and Director of Photography Anastas Michos
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