Death to Smoochy
Directed by Danny De Vito
Written by Adam Resnick
Starring Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener


Death to Smoochy

Everybody hates this film. Really, truly hates it. It will quickly die at the box office, and perhaps deservedly so. It is a mess, a terrible mess, but it is also an amazing attempt at an impossible goal, and so it cannot be all bad. It is an adult film, very much an adult film, or at least an adolescent film, in which the f-word count over an hour and three quarters probably exceeds that of any full season of "The Sopranos."

"Death to Smoochy" is the story, if that is not too strong a word, of the bloody life and death battles between two children's TV show hosts. Robin Williams is Rainbow Randolph, king of sleaze, who takes payoffs from parents who want their kids to be up front and visible on the show. But he's trapped in an FBI sting and quickly loses job, penthouse suite, and payola. Now homeless, he blames sweet young Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), whose character Smoochy the Rhinoceros is currently playing a regular gig at the Coney Island Methadone Center. Sheldon is located as a replacement by network producer Nora Wells (Catherine Keener), and quickly becomes numero uno in the biz.

So: Bad clown, good clown. It could work, but then screenwriter Adam Resnick ("Cabin Boy") drags in some more plots, until there are more hit men around than there are kids on the TV show. Director De Vito is Sheldon's duplicitous agent; Harvey Fierstein is some kind of mob boss; and - the one bit that works - Pam Ferris is an aging Irish restaurant owner with a wonderful brogue and a talent for Irish sayings, who just happens to run her own gang of thugs who do things like decapitate the bad guys.

I see I've hardly begun to tell you about the film. I didn't get to Smoochy the Rhinoceros performing for the Neo-Nazi rally, or the big ice-skating finale during which Norton is stalked by shooter Vincent Schiavelli, another failed kid-show host, but is saved by the repentant Randolph, or - well, why spoil it for you. The one thing I want you to take away with you is that Catherine Keener, who played the elegant mistress of all events and acts in "Being John Malkovich," is absolutely brilliant in "Smoochy." She has wit and beauty, and killer timing. She is the new Carole Lombard of American cinema, and deserves to be recognized for it.