It is impossible to say whether the premise or its execution is more fatal in “Death to Smoochy.” One would expect something greater out of the talents assembled. “Smoochy” centers around the dirty politics and corporate corruption that surrounds the powerful world of children’s television (get it?). Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is a dirty clown. A foul-mouthed drinker, Smiley is nabbed by undercover FBI agents after taking payola to get some kid on his show. This becomes a PR nightmare for the network president (Jon Stewart), so he dispatches Nora (Catherine Keener) to find a squeaky clean replacement. Together they descend on the guileless Sheldon Mopes, a.k.a. “Smoochy” (Edward Norton). As Smoochy’s star rises, we soon find that ShowBiz isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Disparate madcap forces conspire about Smoochy, while Randolph Smiley wants his job back, and will stop at nothing. Wow!
There are several problems with “Death to Smoochy” that are worth discussing. The premise is a comedy cliché. A dirty clown? We’ve all seen it done with more humor and humanity on “The Simpsons” and even “Shakes the Clown”. It doesn’t help that Robin Williams’ performance is one note and is delivered as if the film was a cartoon. That may have been exactly what director Danny DeVito told him to do, which is unfortunate. While a great comedic performer, it seems somehow that DeVito understands comedy better as a producer (“Out of Sight,” “Reality Bites”) than a director (“War of the Roses,” “Throw Mama from the Train”). Edward Norton’s performance as Smoochy is also uninteresting and uninspiring. In case there was ever any doubt, Norton has made it 100% clear with this film that he can play a simp. Catherine Keener rises above this collection of banality, only to be sunk by the screenplay. You see, she’s a network executive, and therefore a bitch. She falls for Smoochy, so she has a heart; but then you find out that she’s slept with ALL of the network’s kid stars, so she’s a slut. Female executive = bitch = slut. Get it?
The biggest laughs that came from the audience were when Robin Williams smashes his head into concrete (ouch!), and the dick jokes.
If there is any reason to see this film it is for the stunning cinematography of Anastas Michos. Apparently his first as DP after spending more than a decade in the camera department, this film has a lush, spectacular quality that is the most original piece of the film. Outside of watching Michos’ career making performance as a cinematographer, the only other reason to see this would be to witness the difference between “funny” and “trying to be funny.”