Death to Smoochy

Comedy is a slippery beast that when held in inappropriate hands can turn into a monster capable of killing up to two hours of your time: a case in point, Death to Smoochy, Danny DeVito’s directorial debacle. You’d think a film that starts out with Robin Williams dancing amid midgets in all the colors of the rainbow would have some promise, but somewhere a cloud of doom cast a shadow of mishap on each scene from moment one, and I knew I was in for a long dreary ride.

Smoochy is set in the wacky, wonderful world of children’s television, and Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) is the No. 1 kid’s show host, until he’s nabbed taking bribe money to put some couple’s little “booger-eater” on the show. Scandal doesn’t fare well, and Randolph is replaced with squeaky-clean Smoochy (Edward Norton), Sheldon Mopes’ purple rhinoceros alter ego, who’s hired on the spot from his regular gig at the methadone clinic. Smoochy’s ratings skyrocket, however, and Sheldon finds his childlike idealism smothered by the industry’s sugarcoated corruption — and Rainbow Randolph has snapped out of his mind and is out for purple rhinoceros blood.

Looks good on paper, but from the outset, violence and profanity are thrown in your face (which is supposed to be ironic and funny because it’s happening inside and around the kiddie-show business). But since the film lets loose with the mud before any kind of wholesome atmosphere or kid’s host persona can be established by Williams, the lines hit you like a wet trout. Danny DeVito, Catherine Keener and John Stewart play nasty, one-dimensional Mafioso and big-business bottom-line characters who ravage the screen, with Norton trying to figure out how to emote in the middle of this black and white whirlpool. Rainbow Randolph can’t even say his name without swearing, so like a “Saturday Night Live” skit, the narrow joke gets old before it starts.

Screenwriter Adam Resnick has a background reeking of potential hilarity, having written for “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” as well as (with Chris Elliot) “Get a Life” and Cabin Boy, but in the heavy-handed hands of DeVito’s cartoony directing, any nuances that could have saved this questionable script are beaten to death.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].