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Monday December 5th

Poor Scripting, Lackluster Acting Cuts Success of 'Smoochy' Short

2 Stars

Once again, Danny DeVito has created a film for the ages. Mad Chance Films proudly presents "Get Shorty II." Oh, wait.

Shifting his role from producer to director, DeVito continues to use his clout to bring in big name stars and have them humiliate themselves, as evidenced by Robin Williams and Edward Norton's awkward shuffling through "Death to Smoochy."

In the opening minutes, kid's show host Rainbow Randolph (Williams) is arrested for taking money from parents in exchange for putting their kids on his show. Randolph is quickly replaced by super-ethical, granola-munching Sheldon Mopes (Norton), or "Smoochy," a pink rhinoceros that could easily be the bastard son of Barney.

Smoochy, whose previous gigs were playing in various methadone clinics, becomes ridiculously successful, setting Rainbow out for vengeance.

Throw in several plots to kill Smoochy by both Rainbow and various mob bosses, a handful of attempts to corrupt his values and make him sellout to merchandising, a gratuitous love interest and Jon Stewart as a corporate sleazebag -- and there's the film.

As in "Get Shorty," the film tries to fuse film noir and comedy but ends up just throwing established actors into B-movies rolls and watching them try to claw their way through.

Edward Norton does his best with his flat character, who, surprisingly, manages not to get on anyone's nerves with his Cloroxed image. Songs such as "We'll get you off that smack, oh yes we will" and "My stepdad's not mean, he's just adjusting" conjure genuine laughs.

Williams' performance suffers by comparison, however. Partially due to the film's script and partially to Williams' obvious attempts to score some serious roles, Rainbow Randolph is dead from the start. Someone needs to tell these filmmakers that the novelty of a kid's show host screaming obscenities wears off after a couple of times.

And dialogue like "Even a guy who's squeaky-clean falls in the mud" really doesn't leave the man much room for improv. Though his character has some high points -- his dance routine down the street is impressive -- Williams seems to be trying too hard to be mean and has to force every morsel of his dialogue.

Unfortunately, other aspects of the film are even worse. The noir, hard lighting is extremely overdone, creating an unrealistic feel and cheesy shadows. The use of big band music is laughably out of place. And Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito are tragically not funny.

It remains a mystery how this movie got funding and why Norton and Williams signed on to the project. As a comedy, "Death to Smoochy" gets forced laughs, and as film noir, it's neither suspenseful nor intriguing.

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