Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Death to Smoochy Reviews

A misfire of spectacular proportions, this garish train wreck of a dark comedy purports to take satirical aim at the dirty underbelly of children's television programming. National Kidnet has a problem: Their star performer, "Rainbow" Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams), has been busted for accepting bribes from parents who want their little darlings to get preferential treatment on his saccharine kiddie show. Kidnet needs a new star of unblemished reputation, which proves hard to find in the seedy world of corrupt and debauched children's performers. Enter Smoochy, a bulbous purple rhinoceros who sings sweet little ditties about oral hygiene, getting along with stepparents and the delights of sugarless cookies. He's the brainchild of painfully earnest Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a relentlessly upbeat neo-hippie whose idea of a decadent treat is a soy dog with spirulina dressing on a gluten-free bun. Desperate Kidnet programming executives Frank (Jon Stewart) and Nora (Catherine Keener) welcome Smoochy as the solution to their troubles, underestimating Sheldon's naive but steadfast commitment to reforming kiddie TV. He's determined not to shill sugary snacks, consent to money-grubbing merchandising deals or sign off on obscenely lucrative ice-show contracts, and hires a shady agent named Burke (Danny DeVito) to play hardball on his behalf. But innocent Sheldon has no idea of the dirty deals being made behind his back, including one between Burke and ruthless gangster Merv Green (Harvey Fierstein), who's been milking a children's charity called Parade of Hope — a long-time sponsor of Kidnet-related ice shows — for decades. And then there's Randolph: embittered, disgraced, broke, homeless and determined to destroy Smoochy by any means necessary. The point of satire is generally to deflate sacred cows with barbed humor, but really, does anyone hold the ethics of TV executives in high esteem? It's hardly news that commercial television is a venal business or that children's programming is primarily a delivery system for advertising. The film's look veers between primary-colored compositions shot in the flat, overlit style of youth-oriented TV and a grotesquely exaggerated gloss on film noir conventions — all vertiginous angles and ominous shadows. This is apparently meant to be ironic contrast, but since both aesthetics are equally cartoon-like, it's hard to discern the point. The performances are almost amateurishly overwrought, and the film's sense of humor is firmly rooted in the idea that disgruntled, show tune-loving dwarves, the childish antics of punch-drunk former prize fighters and Robin Williams cussing a blue streak are hilarious.