Sunday, January 31, 2010

Death to Smoochy

Year 2, Day 30 - 1/30/10 - Movie #395

BEFORE: From the cutthroat world of network news, to the cutthroat world of children's television. This movie got really bad reviews, but I swore that I wouldn't pre-judge. Anyway, if it's that bad, I'd like to watch it and get it off of my list.

THE PLOT: When he is fired, the host for a children's television show plots revenge against his replacement, a rhino named Smoochy.

AFTER: Back in the day, I worked for a company that filmed segments for Sesame Street, and I've had several friends who've worked at MTV Animation and Nickelodeon over the years, so I know that more goes on backstage at these kids shows than most people realize. Jeez, I might be this film's target audience, which is a scary thought.

While it's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, neither is it as bad as I thought it would be - it's certainly not as bad as "Radioland Murders", for example.

Robin Williams plays the disgraced host, Rainbow Randolph, who plots revenge against his time-slot replacement, Smoochy, aka Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton). There's a clear parallel meant to be drawn between characters like Pee-Wee Herman and Barney, though I don't know of any real-world direct conflict between those two.

If the movie had just been about the conflict between Randolph and Smoochy, it could have been a lot more interesting. Mopes/Smoochy comes along with his plan to control his character, teach kids the benefits of organic foods and the evils of refined sugar, and tries to sing songs with positive messages, like getting along with step-parents. Edward Norton plays the guy as a straight arrow, and is very believable - while Robin Williams plays Randolph as a loose cannon, someone one step away from the edge, and of course he's very believable at doing that...

With the current campaigns to remove high-fructose corn syrup from restaurants, and soda and sugary snacks from school lunches - and at a time when even Cookie Monster is being seen on TV eating vegetables, I actually found some of this movie's content to be very timely.

I think there was a solid idea here, but it got lost in a plot that just has too many villains, too many ex-kiddie show hosts, and too many reversals. Between the Irish mafia, the evil charity ice-show sponsors, evil agents, evil network executives and a number of psychotic killers, it's tough to keep all the players straight.

Also starring Catherine Keener (last seen by me in "Synecdoche, New York"), Danny DeVito (who also directed), Jon Stewart, Harvey Feirstein, and character actors Vincent Schiavelli, Robert Prosky, Danny Woodburn (Mickey from "Seinfeld") and Martin Klebba ("Pirates of the Caribbean").

Between my knowledge of "Star Wars", "Time Bandits", and the show "Little People, Big World", I probably know more than the average person about tiny actors, or LP actors. This is the kind of movie that employs them, in that difficult acting period between St. Patrick's Day and the Christmas season. This is the kind of stuff that fills my brain, yet never comes up in trivia contests...

RATING: 5 out of 10 cowbells

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