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Death to Smoochy

Death to Smoochy

A dark underbelly in the world of children's television with more than its share of derisive misfires is Danny DeVito's Death to Smoochy.  Having versatile top liners in Robin Williams and Edward Norton in this corruptive comedy isn't enough for DeVito and writer Adam Resnick to avoid following in the footsteps of their respective weaker efforts in Throw Momma from the Train and Lucky Numbers.

DeVito, of course, also co-stars when he directs, and here offers plenty of tight close-ups, working pretentiously to get inside his characters with his mercurial lenser in Anastas Michas.  The usually shrewd pungent ability of Catherine Keener is wasted here, despite not letting the embarrassing material get the better of her icy professionalism.

Williams' zany pest in Randolph Smiley, known as Rainbow Randolph, is a risky part that stridently self-aggrandizes the likes of "Shakes The Clown," a Bobcat Golthwaite forgettable creation.  Rainbow is the star of a highly rated children's television show, but is nabbed for payola in casting for his program.  The real reason behind the Feds busting him may involve his association with very shady folks, some of whom front for charities.

Jon Stewart ("The Daily Show") as programmer Stokes has to put some piety into his new host as much of the small screen children's employees are in the cesspool of lifestyles.  So it's up to Norton's Sheldon Mopes, ala Smoochy, a pink rhinoceros, to underscore his potential to entertain youngsters.

For a little while, Death to Smoochy would appear to have some neat tricks, but once DeVito shows up as the devilish agent named Burke, the devious director irritates too much, without the calculating malevolent wit displayed in The War of the Roses.

Harvey Fierstein, as a hoarse wicked mafioso type and a tough ex-kids host played by Vincent Schiavelli are far from Smoochy's worst nightmare.  Randolph is the incendiary foe driven by jealousy to do in Sheldon, who as the sugar, fantastical Smoochy, would seem to have a monopoly on children's TV.

Just like Nora Ephorn, who couldn't bring good luck to John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow in the ill-fated Lucky Numbers, DeVito imparts too much of a punch-drunk atmosphere to Death to Smoochy.  When it comes to TV and kids, perverse, vulgar toying absurdly exposes a need in anger management.

Death to Smoochy

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