DEATH TO SMOOCHY
April 8th, 2004
Script Review: DEATH TO SMOOCHY, written by Adam ResnickReviewed by Darwin Mayflower
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
Adam Resnick has a pedigree that makes you sit up and listen. He wrote and produced two of my favorite television shows: LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (where he won an Emmy with the rest of the staff) and GET A LIFE, the cult classic, starring Chris Elliot, about an adult paperboy. Resnicks movie career hasnt been as stellar: he wrote and directed CABIN BOY (which, while not a terrible movie, showed us Chris Elliot is not a leading man) and he recently penned the Nora Ephron bomb LUCKY NUMBERS. (Adams script was lost in Noras muddy visual style and that movie proved Nora needs to stick to big-star-driven piffle.)
Resnicks latest, DEATH TO SMOOCHY, takes us into the subcutaneous of that mean, brutal, sordid, corrupt world of kiddy TV. Under the antiseptic glare of the screen, where the happy, cheery images beam, we find mobsters controlling performers and stealing from charities, and parents scraping together money for payola to get their kids on the show.
DEATH TO SMOOCHY gets its high from debasing and perverting something we hold sacred. Knocking something we love onto its ass and pointing and laughing hysterically. Since its done well, with a knowing wink and crafty style, its a whole lotta fun. This script, with its abundance of real violence and zany comedy predilection, is sort of like a SIMPSONS episode written and directed by the Coen brothers.
Rainbow Randolph is the number one kids show on the air. His network, KidNet, is riding high off the sale of everything from Rainbow Rudolph dolls to Rainbow Rudolph albums. It all comes crashing down when Rudolph (a.k.a. Randolph Smiley) is busted accepting bribes from parents to get their kids an appearance on the show. The KidNet brass take a bite out of their development man Frank Stokes. He found Rudolph, Rudolph messed up, and now they need someone new -- and fast. But this time he has to be unsullied. Beyond reproach. "Squeaky f***ing clean," as the CEO intones. Stokes and his young protege, Nora Bishop, go through everyone and anyone available: Bubble Bee Billy (a wife-beater), Square Dance Danny (mail fraud), Skippy Black and the Tippy Trolls (Skippy was deported and no one knows where the Trolls are). It looks bleak: kid show hosts with a crime-free background are harder to find than parking in Manhattan. Stokes has an idea: look up small-time loser Sheldon Mopes, who performs as Smoochy the Rhino. He suffers under the illness of idealism and is so dull when he tells you he didnt inhale -- you can believe him.
Nora finds Sheldon performing at a Coney Island Methadone clinic. When told about the job opportunity Sheldon is ecstatic: a chance to entertain kids and bring a bit of happiness into their lives. Its all about the kids, he tells Nora, and not about the money. She shrugs, hires him, and orders up the Smoochy shot glasses. Sheldon sticks to his guns and refuses any endorsements. The show is a monster hit. Sheldon, a man of nearly childlike innocence, is seeing his greatest dream realized.
He has nothing to worry about. Except, that is, the combustingly bitter Rudolph, who, now homeless, is plotting revenge. And the mobsters who want Sheldon to do an ice show that will ostensibly be for sick children but does, in fact, fatten their pockets.
DEATH TO SMOOCHY is a black comedy, to be sure (how could it not be with that title?). And it gets the job done thanks to Adam Resnicks oddball sense of humor and a gift for tangy, gaudy dialogue. It has its problems, like a narrator thats never explained and a redundancy to its jokes, but what I think makes this work is that were being shown a group of lunatics. Everyone, one way or another, is out of their mind. From Nora (who has a hilarious lust for kiddy TV show hosts) to Sheldons agent Burke to a former boxer named Spinner who loves Sheldons show and is given a part on it. Sheldon, with his quixotic charm and walleyed wonder, would normally be the odd man out. But here, through the loopy writing, he is our straight man. The one sane, calming hand on a restive pack of wild dogs.
One of the things I like that Resnick does is that he doesnt make Sheldons Smoochy show a joke. If BARNEY was actually this intelligent Id understand why kids watch it. Thought was put into the program, including a couple of mindlessly hummable songs, and the childrens enthusiasm for it is believable. Sheldons love for kids, we might see here, brings about an understanding for them simply because he doesnt condescend to them.
Im a big fan, too, of Noras character. Instead of making Stokes the one Sheldon interacts with -- which, I think, is what wed normally see -- Resnick gives this female role a choice selection of tarty, sassy dialogue and has her sparring with the guileless Sheldon/Smoochy. You could make the case that shes only involved so Sheldon and Nora will fall in love, but Ill hold off the cynicism and applaud a well-written female role.
DEATH TO SMOOCHY is a bit too ambitious and a few too many characters show up for their Funny Scene. I think a bit too many hotel towels were stuffed into the suitcase, if you know what I mean, and the added weight does drag SMOOCHY down quite a bit. Rudolph, for one, has some hysterical early scenes. But he keeps showing up, basically doing the same thing, and he becomes a pointless annoyance. Theres also an extensive plot maneuver with three different mob groups that takes up a lot of time and cant really add anything new to the post-modern mob humor weve seen so much of lately.
Resnicks wit appears to have been sharpened from his years on Lettermans show -- the TV-studio scenes are killer, of course -- but when I mention this feels like a SIMPSONS episode, I wasnt exaggerating. Certain elements from this script seem lifted right from the show. Explosive, obstreperous Rainbow Randolph is a lot like Krusty the Clown. When hes fired his rancorous tirades will be familiar to anyone whos seen the episode where Krusty is busted as a tax cheat and dumped from his show. Or when Krusty gets canceled and plots to expose the man who took his viewers away. Even the mobsters in this script feel like Fat Tony and his gang from that long-running cartoon. Is this homage, coincidence or outright stealing? I dont know.
As was true in LUCKY NUMBERS, Resnick has an unhealthy penchant to merge violence and comedy. This script has bloody violence that would be at home in a Martin Scorsese movie. I dont ever mind carnage in a film, but theres never a nudge from the writer that points to the fact that, Hey, folks, its just a comedy and were only playing around. Im not saying comedy cant have bloodshed, but considering SMOOCHYs otherwise light tone, whats the point of turning people off? Having heads chopped off, men in foam-rubber suits beaten with pipes and murdered, a man cold-bloodedly done away with mob-style is over the top in my eyes (for a comedy, that is).
Resnick sets up a grand finale reminiscent of RONIN. Sheldon is performing his ice show and the various sides out to kill him are present there to watch his execution (by a drunk ex-kid show host who will do anything for money). Will Sheldon live? Will Nora be able to save him? Will Stokes and Burke, now partners, get away with the crime? You get the idea. The highlight to all this is the gutbustingly pretentious ice show Smoochy performs (a full-blown opera depicting the recent events of his life with Wagner playing in the background). This script really hinges on this sequence. The script sags, fat and out of shape, in its middle and needed a sweet-cookie charge to bring it home with both wings still attached. Resnick is able to do that, thankfully, and we should be grateful a comedy writer -- since its so rare -- put thought into his ending. The overblown spectacle, with its MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE suspense, is a live-wire spark that brings the satire full circle and leaves a grin on your face rather than the foul taste in your mouth flat endings so normally do.
Danny DeVito directed this movie. His eccentric directing style will no doubt benefit this comedy. Danny has a good sense for visual comedy and if you look at his picture-perfect film MATILDA youll see he can work his camera like a high-on-sugar Barry Sonnenfeld.
The movie stars Edward Norton, Robin Williams, Catherine Keener and Jon Steward.
A good sign for Resnick and Co. is that I look forward to seeing this film. The bad news is that the casting scares me half to death.
Edward Norton as Sheldon is interesting, I suppose, and Norton is surely our most diverse young actor. Hes already played wide-eyed, stuttering artlessness in EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. I still cant say I saw him in the role (though I have no doubt hell shock me again).
Having Catherine Keener play Nora is a bit of a waste: shes already played this part in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Keener, who will also be seen soon in SIMONE, is perfect for the role. And I know that -- because shes already played it. (I saw beautiful Julia Ormond -- reveling in the caustic cynicism of the role -- in the part.)
I cant imagine Robin Williams will play second fiddle to Norton in the small role of Rudolph. Rudolph is already around too much in this draft and if we see him any more it could derail the entire movie. Theres only so much bitter, drunken rambling we can take. We must also add to the fire Williams fondness for ad-lib and directors hands-off approach to directing him that leads to the destruction of secondary characters like Rudolph. (Secondary characters are secondary for a reason.)
I cannot reconcile Jon Steward and the character Stokes. He doesnt have the evil, clammy, backstabbing coldness the character calls for. This would be a great role for Aaron Eckhart or even where-is-he-now? star Eric Roberts.
Theres nothing in the world of movies I like more than wacko, nutty black comedies. I love odd films. Adam Resnick shares my sense of humor. And I think for this reason I enjoyed the script. It never really kills, it doesnt make you cry with joy, and it felt slightly lacking. But it does tell its jokes mostly through verbal wordplay -- no chickens in butts, no sperm in hair, no penis-impaled brain -- and Resnick is just loony and knowing enough to carry the unwieldy thing along on his tiptoes.
Ohhhh...its a fantabulous day in Smoochyland
Lets have a great big cheer for the Smoochyland band
Well dance with our jungle pals, wont that be grand?
Oh, its a fantabulous day in Smoochyland!
-- Darwin Mayflower.