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Who exactly is Smoochy?

Death to Smoochy looks at the man behind the mask

Welcome to the dark, sinister, deadly underworld of children's television. It's Jerry Falwell's wet dream-that the seemingly benevolent humans inside those fluffy, bouncy, brightly colored costumes are really degenerates, criminals, homosexuals! Danny DeVito's "Death to Smoochy" takes this premise to the edge, telling the story of a corrupt kiddie host, Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) who gets swiftly dropped from the network when he's busted for taking suitcases full of money from desperate parents who want their child on his hit show. Once Rainbow Randolph's booted, his reputation ruined (it's all over the New York papers -- imagine if Barney was framed for murder or espionage) the soulless network execs (Jon Stewart and Catherine Keener) are ordered to find a squeaky clean replacement, and fast. Nora (Keener, playing another cold bitch with a heart) reluctantly approaches Sheldon Mopes, aka Smoochy the Rhino (Edward Norton) who dresses in a fuzzy rhino costume and sings acoustic ditties. He's a bleeding-heart, wanna-change-the-world, health fanatic with a "fetish for ethics." Times are tight, so his latest gig is singing to ex-junkies at a Coney Island Methadone clinic about the dangers of smack. Nora easily persuades the giddy Mopes to take Rainbow Randolph's place, and the Smoochy show quickly takes off.

But Randolph hasn't lost his grudge against the rhino who stole his spot, and he's maniacally plotting to do Mopes in. There's also a mob boss sort of guy (Harvey Fierstein), always shot in dark shadows, who heads a "charity" called Children of Hope, and he's angling to be the puppetmaster of Smoochy and his money making gig. And DeVito plays the scamming agent who gets Mopes' trust, only the screw him, as all agents do, in the long run.

If it all sounds a little sappy, a little predictable -- will Mopes/Smoochy prevail over the dark forces of capitalism and greed? -- it is, but the writing (the screenplay was written by Adam Resnick) is so hilarious and the acting so fine tuned that it hardly matters when the plot twists fall into the standard guy-gets-girl fare. "Death to Smoochy" is an anti-kids' flick, in that if children watch it they'll probably leave the theater either scared out of their mind, or screaming "cocksucker!" -- or both. The filmmakers censor nothing, which is part of what makes the movie even more hilarious. Pitting the giddy, wholesome visuals of a kids' show against everything that's lewd and degenerate is a beautiful recipe for shocking an audience into hysterics. This is a "Raising Arizona" kind of comedy, in that it's images and colors are sweet as they come, but the actual story is black as noir.

The film wouldn't work at all without Norton. The fact that he's completely believable as the gosh-golly Mopes is a huge feat, considering that he's played a serial killer, a Nazi skinhead, and a delusional creep that beats the crap out of himself. Norton is smart for taking the comedic route for a while -- it reminds you of his incredible abilities all the more.


Death to Smoochy
Rated R

Robin Williams
Edward Norton
Catherine Keener
Danny DeVito
Jon Stewart