Killing TV characters made cool: Death to Smoochy

Manipulative agents, scheming television execs, the violent leader of a charity organization for building children’s hospitals and a psychotic, vulgar ex-television star have all joined forces to kill a kindhearted, innocent purple Rhino named Smoochy in the witty satirical comedy Death to Smoochy.

Edward Norton (Fight Club) stars as Sheldon Mopes, a struggling children’s entertainer with a heart of gold. Mopes’ career skyrockets when resident television superstar Rainbow Randolph, played by Robin Williams, is busted for bribery and corruption. The television executives, including Jon Stewart (“The Daily Show”) and Katherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) are quick to find a squeaky-clean replacement to keep the network alive. Reluctantly, they opt for Smoochy.

While Smoochy’s television show becomes an overnight success, Randolph sinks deeper and deeper into insanity, convinced that Smoochy is out to steal his coveted time slot and legions of fans. Randolph wants to see Smoochy dead.

The television executives, only interesting in marketing Smoochy’s success and turning a profit, eventually grow tired of Mopes’ warm, unabashed nature, and they too get in on the act of getting rid of the Smoochy for good.

Death to Smoochy shines on many levels. The film is a scathing satire of the television industry. Stewart, Danny DeVito and a cast of others perfectly play their roles as shallow, conniving and corrupt network cronies.

A major strength of Death to Smoochy lies in its cast. Stellar actors like Norton and DeVito play unique roles that engage the audience. Norton plays a role entirely unlike anything he has ever done. Mopes is a complete sap – an ethical Boy Scout who easily gets sucked into the devious pitfalls of the television execs.

Williams, unlike the sappy, disappointed roles he has held recently, proves he can still manage to pull in big laughs. Randolph is an off-the-wall, terribly vulgar psychotic who engages the audience in his sadistic plot. DeVito draws laughs as a manipulative agent who manages to weasel his way into Mopes’ life.

DeVito’s directing gives the film a frantic, cartoon style. New Wave-style camerawork, extreme close-ups and set designs create stunning and unusual visuals.

The performance sequences of Smoochy are vibrant and hilarious, with Norton and Williams donning outlandish costumes and singing songs like “My Step Dad’s Not Mean, He’s Just Adjusting.” Another sequence, involving Smoochy unknowingly performing at a white power rally, is cleverly filmed and disturbingly hilarious. The rest of the film is equally stylized, playing out like a comic book crime caper wrapped in a dark comedy.

The balance of great performances and an absurd plot-line make Death to Smoochy a comedy that cleverly meshes a satirical dark humor with screwball comedy.

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