Undermarked Oversights: Death to Smoochy

How on earth can you beat a satirical comedy that features a giant pink television rhino who inadvertently reveals to his young audience -- in a form of terrorist sabotage care of a rival children's show host who wears a rainbow jacket and derby hat -- a penis-shaped cookie, only for him to turn it around and make it a rocket ship?

You can't, which is one of the many reasons why Death to Smoochy oozes with a slimy consumerist-critique humor that's hard to ignore. Featuring an infusion of hard-edged and saccharine-sprinkled lines from Robin Williams' psychotic kid entertainer and a few "Corporate American" suits embodied by Jon Stewart and Catherine Keener, this snarky expose of marketing and creative control acts as a hit on Barney to see if he'd bleed Pixie Stick-laced syrup or pitch-black evil puss. Directed by Danny DeVito himself and starring Edward Norton of heady films' American History X and Fight Club fame, it's a hell of a lot harsher and more enthralling than it willingly allows its audience to see.

But Death to Smoochy is also really, really funny in the process, though it takes some assimilation to catch its gritty comedic rhythm. It tracks the downfall of an exploitative children's television host named Rainbow Randolph, which happened to earn Robin Williams an undeserved Razzie award in 2003. His character's name embodies a goofy paradox, implying that kids who land on Randolph's show find the "end of the rainbow" aka a pot of gold, stardom, etc. After he's caught in some back-alley type of dealings that exploit children's careers, the television network headhunts a tofu-eating, clinic-hopping performing rhino named "Smoochy", also known as Sheldon Mopes (Norton), to clean up the tarnished image of the show.

Norton's Mopes epitomizes a caricature of the socially-aware vegan / vegetarian performer, even going so far as having him spread healthy green gloop all over his veggie dogs and squirt some kind of wheat germ into his orange juice to give him a "buzz". Flopping him in the driver seat of the station's show works for a while, until creative control, dollar signs, and narcissism leak into the picture and earn a price tag on the pink rhino's head. Death to Smoochy ramps up its fiery dialogue and cutthroat creative suppression at this point, giving it an oddly-balanced and colorfully dark personality that accentuates society's plummeting care for development and spiked focus on economic exploitation.

Bluntness is Death to Smoochy's forte, and it's both a problem and an asset to DeVito's concoction of satire and pitch-black humor. Performances absolutely radiate in each role, even in Williams' bizarrely emotional Rainbow Randolph, yet the tone that they overlay atop the story can brush heavily against the grain of its subject matter. It presents an underbelly of consumerist evil that we'd rather not imagine underneath the programs that we let out kids watch, which can be off-putting for those with children that might be glued to the screen during such programs as we speak. Charitable organizations' greedy motives are "exposed" (nudge nudge, wink wink) for their true nature, while on the flipside a hardened television exec's malnourished emotional side opens up -- though it comes masked as potential "kiddie host groupie" carnality. Even the rhino somehow tastes corruption.

There's a lot of dark material within Smoochy's script, but it can be quite an entertaining brush with discomforting humor if taken with its intentionally biting outlook. And, for some reason beknownst to me, these searing lashes at the industry and at the wide range of characters makes me crack up more with each viewing. Maybe it's the satire, maybe it's the brash dialogue, or maybe it's just seeing Norton in a puffy pink suit and Williams in sparkly rainbow-adorned attire -- for any and all of these reasons, even with the head-shaking knowledge of the film's oddly swirled tonality, Death to Smoochy really hits the horn on the head.


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