Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 8: Death to Smoochy

Danny DeVito’s 2002 comedy-noir, Death to Smoochy, was panned heavily by the critics when it was released. Roger Ebert gave it only one star when he trashed it. You can read that review in his book, Your Movie Sucks. Ouch.

Personally, I think this movie deserves a second look. Sure, it’s a bit flawed, but it’s a pretty scathing satire of how the corporate nature of show business takes things that can be beneficial to people and twist it around to sell “sugar and cheap plastic.” Death to Smoochy is a film with a few flaws, but it’s not a horrible failure.

When popular kid’s show personality Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) is busted by the feds for accepting bribes to put kids on camera, the network needs a replacement to fill the time slot who is squeaky-clean free of scandal. They find ubër-idealist Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) who is Smoochy the Rhino.

Sheldon is the ultimate idealistic guy. He plays music at the local methadone clinic and tries to get people into soy-based organic food products. When he gets the time-slot, he constantly fights against the capitalist agenda of the network. He rejects the need for all the merchandising and whatnot.

However, the children’s entertainment business is a deadly, corrupt world. Sheldon soon finds himself involved with the Irish mob, threatened by a crooked charity scam, and stalked by Randolph. When Sheldon takes on Burke (Danny DeVito) as his agent, Burke’s first action is to give Sheldon a gun.

While this movie is funny and definitely worth the watching, it does have a few flaws. The first of which is that Sheldon’s conflicts seem to keep resolving themselves without him actually doing anything. Every time he’s in hot water, a few scenes later, everything gets sorted out by someone else. Sheldon also never has a crisis of character; he never really wonders if his idealism is a chased windmill. In fact, his motto is “You can’t change the world, but you can make a dit.”

The film also felt long. It’s only 109 minutes, but it felt like it was over two hours. I think part of the problem here was in the pacing and structure of the movie. There were so many crises solved by someone else, there was never a true build to something that could be called a climax. I think some more time I the rewriting stage and in the editing room would’ve made a tighter, better film.

All in all though, I’d say it was a funny film that hit on some of the right spots. Definitely not going to be a classic, but worth a rental.

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