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Occasionally a movie comes out in Hollywood that is just so bizarre you leave the theater wondering whether you loved it or hated it. Danny DeVito’s Death to Smoochy is one of those films — a movie that’s borderline hilarious, borderline disturbing, but overall, good fun.

This isn’t Barney

Williams goes safari on norton's assDeath to Smoochy focuses on the ever-changing world of children’s television and, more particularly, the evolution from quality programming to full out commercialism. The film stars Robin Williams as Rainbow Randolph, a children’s television show host who loses his job when it’s discovered that he’s been accepting bribes from local parents who want their kids on his show.

Determined to get both his job and the public’s respect back, Randolph works day and night to sabotage his replacement, the squeaky-clean Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) — better known to millions as Smoochy the Rhino. But going on “safari” ends up being much harder than Randolph expected, and soon Randolph hasn’t just lost his job, his home and his friends, but his sanity as well.

Balancing Act

Robin Williams is great as Rainbow Randolph, playing his character so perfectly that viewers won’t have any trouble loathing the usually quite lovable comic. Few actors would be able to successfully play the part with just the right amount of hatred — viewers need to understand where the character is coming from without feeling an ounce of sympathy towards him. Williams takes on the challenge with ease. He includes everything from bulging eyeballs to sweat beads on his forehead in his performance, helping to trigger the ‘this-guy’s-gone-nuts’ response from the audience that’s so desperately needed for the script to work.

Williams’ performance is also supported by the fact that Norton’s portrayal of Sheldon Mopes is so sweet and honest that viewers will instantly fall in love with (and side with) his character. Norton gives one of the best performances of his career as the face behind Smoochy the Rhino, a character that may seem simple to play but at a closer look is just as complex as Rainbow Randolph. Like Williams’, Norton’s performance is a balancing act. With his heart of gold, ability to get buzzed off of orange juice, and more morals than the Pope, Sheldon Mopes could easily be the type of goody-two-shoes audiences would like to punch in the face. However, Norton never falls off the tightrope of sincerity into the pit of obnoxiousness. He remains the type of character that audiences will not only cheer for throughout the picture, but also wish that they could become.

The Supporting Cast

While Death to Smoochy is truly a duel between Williams and Norton for screen time, the minor players do bring a little something of their own to the film’s overall entertainment value. Catherine Keener plays the Bitch (with a capital B) marvelously, while Jon Stewart constantly gives audiences a chance to laugh, thanks to his stylish bowl hair cut. As for the rest of the cast, they will constantly have viewers questioning whose side they really are on — Sheldon’s or Randolph’s — since their performances juggle both moments of sincerity and moments of manipulation. Their intentional wishy-washy performances are guaranteed to keep audiences guessing until the very last scene whether they are who they seem to be, and possibly even surprise some viewers when their true colors are shown.

From the Twisted Mind of Danny DeVito...

Death to Smoochy doesn’t have many laugh-out-loud moments. There are a few dark comedic moments worth a chuckle or two — but nowhere near enough to please those expecting the typical Robin Williams, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt kind of film. However, the movie never claims to be the next Mrs. Doubtfire.

What the film does promise (from its trailers at least) is to be something original, dark, and clever — three characteristics it does in fact live up to. While there may be a couple of cliched subplots that could have easily ended up on the cutting room floor — like the always fighting Keener and Norton eventually falling head over big-fuchsia-tail in love — DeVito chooses to keep these scenes in the film so that viewers can enjoy the cast’s interaction with one another a bit longer than Adam Resnick’s script intended. Luckily, no matter how predictable these scenes may be, they serve their purpose by being carefree entertainment that lets the cast shine.

Be Warned

While Death to Smoochy is a wonderfully acted, brilliantly written movie whose twisted plot will please many, it will also leave many questioning what the hell they just saw. It’s not for everyone, but for those who like a good dark comedy Death to Smoochy is definitely worth checking out.