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Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is fired when his Rainbow Randolph children’s television costumed star is exposed for taking bribes from stage parents who want their kids upfront. Randolph’s ex-girlfriend and the network’s programming executive Nora (Catherine Keener) hires Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), who wears a fuscia rhinoceros suit, and goes under the name of Smoochy. Sheldon hires Burke (Danny DeVito) as his agent, in a bid to keep his integrity intact. But Burke has dollar signs in his eyes, as does Irish mobster Tommy Cotter (Pam Ferris) with her dim-witted protégé Spinner (Michael Rispoli), and a crooked charity recruiter (Harvey Fierstein). Besides, Randolph wants his job back, and won’t rest until Smoochy hits the dust.

Review by Louise Keller:
Why didn’t this divinely dark film get a theatrical release in Australia? Probably because the distributors thought it was just too dark. The juxtaposition of an evil Robin Williams in a bright kiddies land setting is certainly confronting, but for its target audience, Death to Smoochy is a winner. Now audiences everywhere have the opportunity to make up their own mind as it releases on DVD. There is a host of special features too, but more about that later.

It’s bizarre, wild, entertaining and deliciously dark. Death to Smoochy is a splendid parody with a splendid cast that delivers every punch with glee. It’s a ride on the wild side, as Danny DeVito revels in the darkness of the project and Robin Williams excels at the wild swings of madness the role demands. 

‘You can’t change the world, but you can make a dent in it,’ is the philosophy of Ed Norton’s Sheldon Mopes, who, dressed in a big, fluffy purple rhino suit, is discovered as he sings ‘We’re giving up that smacko – yes we are’ to a group of reformed narcotic addicts at a methadone clinic. Do-gooder Sheldon is the opposite of Randolph, whose sweet television persona on the Oz-like set contrasts his foul-mouth, greedy offscreen one. 

These are characters with plenty of bite, and the cast looks as though it is having a ball. It’s filled with bad taste, black humour and an off-beat collection of weird characters. The use of music is effective, with snippets of songs such as I Feel Pretty when you least expect it, and the one liners keep spitting out. Forming a non-stop barrage of wit and inventiveness, it will take more than one sitting to appreciate them all. 

The role of Randolph gives Williams plenty of opportunities to showcase his considerable talents, using many personas and voices, while Norton delivers beautifully as the naïve Sheldon, who is selected when only a dummy who nods is required. Catherine Keener is wonderful as the television executive who is really a kiddie host groupie. DeVito, of course, is just right as the shady agent in pursuit of easy riches, with Harvey Fierstein and Pam Ferris’ Tommy, mob queen, real scene stealers. There’s plenty of slapstick and twists and curves that make you wonder where the ball is heading. The scene when Smoochy is performing to a large audience of what he thinks are disadvantaged kids, but are in fact nazi supporters, is one of the most spectacular, when the film’s zany upside-down world really rocks. 

How all the elements come together to give the film a happy ending is quite extraordinary, but this is not an ordinary film. At times melodramatic, but always surprising and entertaining, Death To Smoochy will definitely not please everyone. But those who delight in crazy dark comedy will flip. 

The additional scenes are good fun – they’re short and sharp and the best part about them is that a rationale is given as to why each one was cut. The bloopers in the gag reel are entertaining – especially those that show Robin Williams improvising. The shoot must have been a barrel of laughs. Capturing the very essence of the film, the behind the scenes doco is beautifully edited and features some wonderful moments. Much of it is set to music, which adds drama to the humour.

But it’s Danny DeVito’s commentary (together with Tass Michos) that provides the most insight, not only into the making of the film, but also into DeVito, the man. His commentary is warm and generous with plenty of reminiscences, often unexpected, and feels like an intimate, casual chat. 

Published January 2, 2003

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CAST: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart, Pam Ferris, Danny Woodburn, Michael Rispoli, Harvey Fierstein, Vincent Schiavelli

DIRECTOR: Danny DeVito

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

PRESENTATION: Dolby Digital 5.1 audio; 16:9 widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Additional scenes, ice show, gag reel, stills gallery, audio commentary with Danny DeVito and Tass Michos, Easter Egg, Behind the Scenes documentary

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: January 8, 2003

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