Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 105 mins .
M15+ . PAL
Just indulge your imagination for a minute…
What if The Wiggles’ Big Red Car was actually a Big Black Car with armour plating?
What if Humphrey was actually a really connected old bear?
And how about the prospect that Fat Cat isn’t just a name, but also the fluffy feline’s job description?
Naturally we’re not suggesting for a moment that these wonderful, much loved kiddie entertainers are anything other than uncorruptible sweeties (DVDnet Legal Department Note: Ahem, thankyou), however when it comes to Death to Smoochy the world of keeping those rugrats entertained is a different story altogether.
Robin Williams dresses down for a change...
Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) is the doyen of children’s television entertainment – the friendliest friend on earth and the cornerstone of a massive marketing empire - that is until he’s busted by the feds taking bribes from parents desperate to get their ankle biters’ heads on the tube. His network, KidNet, need a replacement pronto – and naturally whoever it is has got to be squeaky f*cking clean.
Dickhead meets smackheads...
Cue bottom rung fabric-stuffer Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his particular little character, Smoochy the Rhino. When network VP of development Nora Wells (Catherine Keener) is sent to find him she most certainly does – doing a gig in a methadone clinic. A sappy, insipid do-gooder, naturally enough he’s over the moon at this chance for his big break. A somewhat more kiddie-friendly suit is constructed and before you can say “rhinomania” it’s Smoochy time - much to the incredulousness of the somewhat world-weary Nora.
"This is network television buddy, not a sprout farm. Now get your spongy pink ass out there and dance for the cameras!"
Smoochy’s launch into a televisual orbit is actually such a success that the Parade of Hope, the roughest charity in the world and one with rather connected connections, wants in on his act – or at least the financial benefits gained from it. But all’s OK, for Sheldon is soon saddled with an agent who’ll protect his best interests in the shape of one Burke Bennett (Danny DeVito), however he too isn’t exactly from the wholesome, apple pie school of business. What’s a poor rhino to do? All he wants is some creative input into his show as he gets overwhelmed by marketing frenzies and everybody wanting a piece of his character who they simply see as a piggybank with a horn.
'C' is for 'co...', oh.
If all that’s not enough, there’s still the matter of one rather borderline psychotic Rainbow Randolph not exactly taking his fall from grace particularly well, plotting revenge on the purple din- oops, fuchsia rhino in his own nefarious, escalating (and usually hilarious) ways. Completely swamped with all these horrid, nasty-pastie people wanting the rhino exterminated, at least Sheldon has an ally in rhythmically challenged former boxer Spinner, who just so happens to have his own rather connected Irish mob family. Cue one hell of a power struggle – will the rhino’s balls drop, or will the rhino himself drop? Will Rainbow Randolph redeem himself, or will he lose it completely? And will Spinner ever get the beat?
On cinematic release, Death to Smoochy was canned more than every drop of cola ever distilled - so much so, in fact, that it never even graced our silver screens here in Australia. The big question here is “what the f*ck?!”. Just why did this particular filmic concoction inspire such utter vitriol? Hmm, maybe the likes of Barney and his ilk have far-reaching, well-connected tendrils… Boasting an utterly kick-arse cast – Robin Williams in a welcome return to his acerbic best form, he who you can throw anything at and he’ll excel in Edward Norton, the captivating Catherine Keener – not to mention bit players such as the director of this particularly misunderstood diamond in Danny DeVito, the fabulous Harvey Fierstein, the delightfully creepy Vincent Schiavelli and more – this is a black comedy par excellence, admittedly taking a subject simply ripe for the plucking, but cavorting its way through a tale which anybody who hasn’t had their senses blanded down to the nth degree by the cavalcade of generic rubbish foisted upon us by movies and television in recent years should find oh so much to revel in.
One thing’s for certain, although the story’s as black as midnight inside a cupboard in a cave at the bottom of the ocean after having your eyes poked out during a total eclipse, the picture here is as candy-coloured as they come. Opened up slightly from the cinematic ratio of 1.85:1 to 1.78:1 in order to please those with widescreen tellies,
Not purple, fuschia - really...
the image is 16:9 enhanced and generally quite wonderful to behold. Slight outbreaks of aliasing pop up on the odd occasion, along with a speckle or two here and there, but otherwise all is quite delightfully sharp, clean, clear and absolutely sumptuously coloured, exhibiting simply superb detail both in shadows and out. If you actually notice the layer change then you get an elephant stamp (or gold star, depending upon your preference), as it is superbly placed so as to skate by unnoticed – how they all should be, but rarely are.
A single, solitary Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is given to us to suck upon; however to be honest it only does a pretty gosh-darned serviceable job of things in the old aural pleasure department and no more. Unfortunately everything is splattered across the front soundstage, leaving essentially zip in the rear action department and, save for the odd whimper, the subwoofwoof remains comatose. Still, all is as clear and decipherable as it gets when such manic folk as Robin Williams and a drug-addled Vincent Schiavelli are at play, and there are no synch issues worth noting.
Meanwhile, David Newman’s score makes a decent fist of bouncing about between being insanely happy and nastily nefarious, while it shares time with some of the silliest “kid’s” songs you’ll hear in your life, My Step Dad’s Not Mean He’s Just Adjusting being one perfect example, and just try to get Friends Come in All Sizes out of your noggin after hearing it once. All this shares time with the odd pop song from the likes of Liza Minnelli, Dean Martin, Jackie Wilson and also indie slack-arses the Stone Roses.
A hearty meal of extras is provided, some of which are great fun, others of which are a bit pooey.
These start with a commentary from director and actor Danny DeVito, who having passed the mourning period following Smoochy’s utter box office bellyflop is ready to chat about his creation, along with director of photography Anastos Michos (not that anybody bothered crediting the poor guy anywhere). A scene specific affair with the two commentators obviously recorded at separate times, all manner of techy stuff is covered in possibly too much detail, along with a bit of an “everybody’s beautiful!” vibe permeating the entire thing. You can’t help thinking that if Danny had had some company to bounce off then things might be a tad more entertaining; for as it is most will probably find this rather humdrum going.
A Behind the Scenes documentary (7:40) in an un-enhanced ratio of 1.85:1 offers a pleasant surprise, for rather than being yet another of those kill-inducing sunshine and lollipops EPK-styled affairs, this is decidedly loose in its approach, being more a collection of footage and interview snippets with little in the way of structure – and all the better for it. Ten Additional Scenes are next on the hit list, adding up to a bit over six minutes of bonus Smoochiness. Complete with textual explanations as to why they were severed from the final cut (usually either for pacing or because of gore content), they include a sweet ode to Spinner in Last Nappy Time and yet another out-there character in Tinpan Takashi. In a similar vein are the Bloopers and Outtakes, a quick-cut 4:31 of the usual flubs and whatnot, although Robin Williams’ flubs are generally much more worth spending time with than pretty much anybody else’s, so this is well deserving of a quick peek.
An attempt to add interactivity backfires a little with the Interactive Ice Show. Allowing the viewer to “take control of the KidNet cameras”, the entire 9:04 scene is available via three to four different cameras, all of which can be switched between with a judicious stab of the ‘angle’ button. Kudos for the effort, but really it’s about as exciting as listening to commercial radio. The obligatory array of trailers is next to launch into our faces, with three featured. Theatrical (1:48) is pretty self explanatory (if you can’t work it out then you must be Spinner reincarnated), Danny’s (0:51) is a darker take on the whole thing and Jungle (1:46) is more of a teaser-type affair.
Reaching tentatively into the Magic Cookie Bag mercifully reveals nothing in the way of unusually shaped bickies, rather a whole collection of bits and bobs, mostly of the still and photographic variety. There are 28 behind the scenes stills, nine featuring production design, 20 displaying costume design, 60 production stills and also a selection of 41 other art materials – including much of the Smoochy marketing machine’s wares. Wrapping up this little section is Smoochy’s Summer Vacation, running for 24:01, but entirely consisting of still frames, a little Smoochy doll does the garden gnome on vacation thing, with photographs taken in all manner of exotic climes, although curiously in alphabetical order, making for an interesting series of lines on a map if you’re anally retentive enough to construct such a thing.
Completing the package are another of those utterly worthless Warner Bros Cast and Crew lists which offer nothing in the way of info not attainable from the film’s credits, an Easter Egg which is very easy to trip over (for more details visit our googies page) and finally if you jam the #*&%! disc into your DVD-ROM drive you’ll get the odd web link and that scourge of the world that is the Interactual player trying to finagle its way into your system.
Catherine Keener lets Smoochy's critics know what she thinks of their opinions...
Make no mistake, it may have been given a right royal shafting on release, but in years to come the brilliance of Death to Smoochy is certain to be appreciated. An outstanding cast, a delightfully wicked and often sneakily cornball script and a pretty darned well presented DVD all add up to one simple conclusion - if you’re not stuck inside that mystical, life-sucking square we’re all entreated to think outside of (yet when anybody does they get caned for it), and love a bit of playful nastiness in your comedy, then make no mistake, it’s absolutely, definitely, Smoochy time!
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "