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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Retro Movie Review: Death To Smoochy (2002) #RobinWilliams

Death to Smoochy
Cast: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Danny Devito, Harvey Feinstein, Catherine Keener 
Genre: Comedy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $8,374,062

Plot:  A kids show host is fired in disgrace whilst his replacement, Smoochy the rhino finds himself the rising star


'The Death Of Robin Williams's Illustrious Movie Career? 

Death to Smoochy was notoriously, universally and critically panned by moviegoers and critics everywhere when it was released in 2002. It was bashed, mocked and slated for being too cynical, crass, over-the-top & silly in its premise and delivery; not forgetting also that the performances by Robin Williams and Ed Norton - actors of whom who starred in such highly acclaimed films as American History XFight Club and Primal Fear for Norton and Williams for Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and so forth - were heavily slated in this Danny Devito directed indie comedy project. 

The plot is essentially where a children's presenter is caught accepting bribes and as a result, he loses his job and is subsequently replaced by a younger counterpart, who is 'squeaky clean'. This may sound interesting and everything....until one sees that this children's presenter who is 'effing and blinding' everywhere, is none other than the Genie from Disney's Aladdin, yours truly Robin Williams. Alas, fans of vintage Robin Williams from Mork & Mindy, Good Morning, Vietnam and Hook to name but many will be surprised, and may I add shocked after seeing this movie.

Randolph (Robin Williams) goes full-on berserko mode and in a fit of rage and alasforth, seeks to sabotage his rival's career. 

yet again, Robin plays another manic character, but in contrast to funny characters such as Dale, Daniel, Donald Quinelle and countless others on his resume, his mania as Randolph has more sinister undertones to it. The movie's release came on the back of Insomnia and One Hour Photo, in the year where he made his on-screen comeback during the early 2000s, after a few years out of the limelight by playing bad guy -type roles. 

Despite the kiddie theme and colourful images and characters, this movie is definitely not for younger children, as it contains profanity and adult themes that they and parents may find offensive. Death to Smoochy is a dark, brooding yet mocking and sadistic satire focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a children's TV presenter in the thin vein of Black comedy. There is backstabbing, dodgy deals taking place, everyone is a target - not just Sheldon aka Smoochy. 

At times, I thought the film was funny and amusing, but as a fan, I wholeheartedly prefer Robin playing wholesome and savoury and likeable characters. I love Mork, Peter Pan, Dale, Genie, Philip Brainard, Adrian Cronauer to name but a couple - characters that I grew up with and enjoyed watching. They were very pleasant and embodied exemplary and positive qualities - Randolph on the other hand, was not very wholesome and savoury. He was a very twisted individual, which is why I can't take to this character very much. If anything, these type of character roles are very uncharacteristic for someone like Robin. That is not to say he was always type-casted as a performer; rather when I think of Robin Williams, I think of him as a multi-talented character actor who can do comedy and drama and everything else in-between. My love and appreciation for Robin's movies are dependent on many factors, but 2 of them include him 1) playing likeable characters and 2) the film's own feel-good factor. Many of Robin Williams's movies, as well as his turn as Mork on Mork & Mindy, have a special place in my heart - the ones that I will cherish and love the most are roles where he plays the likeable, kind-hearted, good guy characters. 

This movie, however, is not one of them, unfortunately. 

Death To Smoochy is a movie that will divide fans - you will either love it or loathe it. It very much depends on whether or not you are a fan of his stand-up acts: because if you have been following Robin's career earlier on, a lot of his stand-up routines and jokes contain profanity & adult material and is, therefore, not family- friendly at all. As for non-Robin Williams fans, they might lap this one up. I guess that during the '00s, Robin wanted to take more risks and take up more antagonist roles, just to show he can play a variety of roles. But good guy Robin Williams, - when he plays protagonist characters -, that's when I and many fans like him the most. Randolph was funny at times, but this is not a Robin Williams movie, nor role I wish to remember him by the most. The character he plays is the main reason why I don't rate this highly amongst all of his other earlier movies. Whereas in comedy movies such as Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Fathers' Day, The Birdcage and The Survivors, Robin gets to show off his comedic talents, his character Randolph spends most of the time ranting and raving his head off. 

I have stumbled upon comments from viewers saying that they'd wished Robin had played more characters like Randolph earlier on in his career. Erm, no thank you. If his entire career relied on just that, then in no way would he had been successful & his acting career would have been short-lived. 

I comprehend that it was a project that Robin was interested in doing, but it seems that the '00s weren't a particularly great decade for his career. In fact, the 2000s were not so kind to him. As he got older, the good roles went to the younger actors and Robin was slumped with crappy and not-so-good straight - to- DVD flicks. That is not to say I hate this film entirely - it has its moments, but the glory days of Mork & Mindy, Good Morning, Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Dead Poets Society and Hook were virtually over, and Death to Smoochy carved a massive hole in Robin's career. The other movies that followed in the 2000s and beyond after the release of Death to Smoochy weren't for the better either. And it didn't help matters that his character, Randolph was and is mostly rotten. It was a sad end to what had been 3 impending decades of success during the 1970s with Mork & Mindy, 1980s and 1990s. Death to Smoochy was the beginning of his run of below-par comedy feature films that include Old Dogs and RV in the 2000s era and beyond. 

When I first saw this film, I found it utterly hilarious and over-the-top; but it wasn't until that I had pondered on reflection his past roles, especially comedy roles prior to Randolph. & by contrast, it strikes me that other than the wooden script, Death to Smoochy's bitter and sardonic tone, which is akin to in The War of The Roses, had hampered the viewing experience of this film. It was too harsh for my liking as DeVito opts for the sledgehammer approach in filmmaking, and thus it has absolutely none of the wit and ease of likability of DeVito's earlier effort, Throw Momma From The Train. The rest of the characters, besides Randolph and Sheldon, were frankly unlikable with very little redeemable qualities. The TV boss played by Catherine Keener didn't look convincing at all. 

Whereas Joey O'Brien of Cadillac Man was a sleazeball in many respects, Daniel Hillard from Mrs Doubtfire was immature and childish, & Jack Moniker of The Best of Times was an angsty and moody guy, here Rainbow Randolph was a potty-mouthed, bitter, middle-aged, over-the-top and bonkers guy who rants on too much. Williams' performance was just too acerbic and ludicrously over-the-top for my liking. As much as some of his tirades were, well, kind of amusing and that he became less of a moron later on in the movie and as he teamed up with Sheldon against the real crooks. 

And regardless of what people may say and think, despite his turns in Insomnia, One Hour Photo, with Williams I still can't picture him as a bad guy in a realistic and non-comedic sense. As the Joker, Riddler in a Batman movie however, yes. Whereas here, he overplayed it too much. 

The film amounts to nothing more than satire that is more childish and silly than it is clever in its delivery and plus, it is very mean-spirited throughout; it did not evoke that feel-good factor that is in Robin Williams's previous comedies of the 1980s and 1990s. 

Some of the toilet-like humour and jokes were funny, in a juvenile-ish kind of way - even if it was far-fetched. It was even more juvenile than that of Robin's previous comedies, Jack, Mrs Doubtfire and Fathers' Day; & yet what we have here is an adult comedy with themes that evoke, or supposedly evoke childhood innocence and fun. I just wished it wasn't ruined by all that excessive cursing and the movie's exceedingly morbid tone, despite the film being R-rated. If the film's main selling point was to resort to foul language to garner laughs, then it has succeeded, but this is to the disappointment of many Robin Williams fans, who felt let down with this effort. There can only be an X amount of times for the F-word to be blurted out until it becomes tiresome and less funny. The penis-shaped cookie scene was whilst at first, I found it amusing, was really embarrassing and irksome. It marked the low point of this film. Throw in a not so plausible romantic sub-plot & some suspect storytelling, & Death To Smoochy is a bit of a travesty. But the acting overall was all right at best and the ending was good stuff.

I like Danny DeVito and many of his movies as an actor, but here, he went nuts. 

Surprisingly for a Warner Bros so-called indie production, the film looks cheap, like C-list movie quality that I'd come to expect from a straight-to-DVD film.  

Yet nonetheless, did I think this film was really as bad as critics made it out to be as? Well, not quite, especially from the same critics who have constantly dissed most of Robin's other movies from the 1980s and 1990s, besides this post - 2000 effort. However, based on Robin's character, Randolph & taking into consideration the past character roles he has played, I cannot for the life of me, truly put this film on my top ten favourite Robin Williams movies list. & I certainly wouldn't recommend this as an essential film for all Robin Williams fans to own. 

Death to Smoochy would have probably worked better as an adult-oriented animated TV series instead. Or even better, it had less bad language. 

In 1998, Robin Williams won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting and though many will pinpoint Patch Adams as the film that led to the decline of his acting career, I, for one, say otherwise. Most fans have said this movie, which was released 4 years after his memorable Academy Award triumph, had essentially killed - or be it signalled the end of Robin's illustrious career..... with statements such as this one, I beg to wonder how right they might have been- and are.  

As for this character of his, just no


Pros +

- Is somewhat funny and amusing, in an over-the-top way

- Okay acting by Ed Norton and Robin Williams

- When Randolph sees that Sheldon isn't the bad guy

- The ending scene

Cons - 

- The excessive use of foul language can be off-putting for some fans

- Completely uncharacteristic role for Robin Williams, given the characters he has played in the past, have been family-orientated & much more likeable 

- Robin Williams's character is not very pleasant 

- The film has a cheap and low budget look to it for a Warner Bros. produced feature 

- The other characters are bland and not very interesting 

- Interesting plot, yet wooden script & some suspect storytelling 

- Not recommended for fans who much prefer his clean-cut material and roles

Final Verdict:

Death to Smoochy is a strange one for me - I don't hate this film in its entirety, but then again, all the wonderful positive, family-like qualities that I and we tend to associate Robin Williams with, is stripped away and replaced by F-words, a bitter and sardonic tone and a character role many fans will find dislikeable and asinine. 

Thankfully, this is not the Robin Williams I choose to remember him as.

I find Randolph amusing, yet unsavoury at the same time. 

It is one of those movies where you either find yourselves laughing on occasions, - or that you don't find it amusing whatsoever because it relies so much on shock tactics that you don't see it as being funny. The movie would have worked better I guess, minus most of the swearing and it became PG or PG-13 rated instead. 

Death to Smoochy is only worth recommending to fans and viewers who want to see a darker edge to Robin's character roles. To other Robin Williams fans, I'd say better stick with Mork & Mindy, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam and his other 1980s & 1990s movie efforts. 

And to the rest who are easily offended, avoid this film. 

*Score last updated: 18 July, 2017*


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