As much as I admire what Danny DeVito was trying to do with ‘Smoochy’, sadly this ultra-cynical almost cartoonish black comedy about children’s television is nowhere near as biting as it wants to be. The setup is a perfect idea for a dark satire about children’s television, and DeVito definitely knows how to direct comedies, but considering the production values and the sheer cast quality – the execution leaves somewhat to be desired.
Adam Resnick’s script has a lot of clever ideas and elements which SHOULD be funny, but for some reason the way they’re organised or just the sheer unrelenting dark edge is too much and as a result there’s only a few guffaws at most. There’s a lot of excess in here that should’ve been trimmed including a totally unneeded subplot about a rather dim-witted ex-boker.
Its finally very cool to see Williams without the reigns that hold onto his good behaviour in most of his comedies. Here he takes great joy in throwing out the foul language, over-the-top impersonations and such but sadly the script – whilst giving him a few good lines, doesn’t do much with the character other than have him shouting and screaming about what he wants to do to Smoochy.
On the few occasions he actually goes out and tries stuff the results are quite funny (such as his jokes about Keener’s sex life and of course the ‘charity event’) but simply not enough. Norton’s character, the one sympathetic one of the whole batch, is just plain annoying more than anything whilst Keener’s ice queen bitch tirade at first and then transformation into a somewhat gentler lead isn’t particularly believable which sinks that performance.
Casting wise there’s some fun choices with Harvey Fierstein as the gangster head of a corrupt charity organisation, DeVito himself as a shady agent and Vincent Schiavelli as an alcoholic assassin. Considering these performers have given such great roles in the past, this time around they’re all sadly rather blank.
Nevertheless when it clicks on occasion there’s some great stuff here including a large scandal involving Sheldon’s “political alliances”, satire of the commercial product-driven nature of kids shows, and a quite fun ending. In the end though its not enough. This is a film which is screaming to be funny but barely gets out a whisper. There’s too many attempts to be clever and too much happening at once to result in a convoluted mess.
A simpler, darker and less-quip/more savage satire driven effort would’ve resulted in a much better film. Far from the “Wag the Dog” of the kids show arena, ‘Smoochy’ nevertheless is watchable and has its moments. Its a shame though that overall they dropped the ball – great premise but weak payoff.