Death to Smoochy allows Robin Williams to bust out of his sappy Patch Adams image by playing Randolph Smiley, a kiddie TV star with a preference for Johnnie Walker, backstage blow jobs and egofests in which he tells his staff, "I'm Rainbow Fucking Randolph." Even when parents bribe him to put their kids on his show, Randolph holds the "booger-eating brats" in contempt. This black-comic assault on family entertainment is going to set a lot of teeth on edge. Danny DeVito's films as a director tend to do that. Think especially of Throw Momma From the Train and The War of the Roses, in which institutions such as motherhood and marriage are deliciously debased. DeVito is one twisted puppy, for which he has my thanks. The multiplex would be a duller place without him. If only his material were better this time. The screenplay is the work of Adam Resnick, who wrote for Letterman and The Larry Sanders Show (that's good) but who also scripted the films Cabin Boy and Lucky Numbers (that's bad, ouch-bad). Both sides of Resnick are on display in Smoochy. The story concerns the revenge Randolph plots when the network prez (Jon Stewart) replaces him with Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton), a naive boob who hits it big as Smoochy, a purple rhino. Randolph really loses it when Sheldon gets kissy with Nora (tart-mouthed Catherine Keener), a programming exec who likes to make it with all the kiddie stars while they're still in costume. Seeing these shenanigans, Mister Rogers will be glad he retired. DeVito, who appears as Smoochy's devious agent, errs by pitching the performances too high, making the film feel tight and claustrophobic. Williams starts at over-the-top and accelerates from there. Norton finds some modulation, and a musical number in which Smoochy sings a perversely funny song about stepdads suggests what might have been if Smoochy didn't turn screechy.
From The Archives Issue 894: April 25, 2002