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Reviewed November 11th, 2002 by Brian White


Once again, the deranged mind of Danny DeVito has provided us with an ultra-dark, and quite amusing look at life, or something like it. This darkness was perhaps first expressed in the War of the Roses, which is a very unsentimental look at the breakdown of a marriage that was also really funny. DeVito returns with a wickedly funny premise, and a fantastic cast. Here we have the first entry in Robin Williams’ “Dark Trilogy,” which includes Insomnia, and One-Hour Photo.

The premise here is the downward spiral of a former Children’s show host, mirrored by the meteoric rise of his replacement. Bitterness consumes the former host, and he mines new depths of pettiness and pathos. Rainbow Randolph, played by Williams, goes quite insane. Williams’ leash is thrown away and he runs free. On the other side of the spectrum is the rise of the most annoyingly decent man, Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton). Sheldon is Children’s host Smoochy. You get the impression that you’re supposed to hate him, but DeVito directs the film in such a way that you identify with Sheldon.

Sheldon/Smoochy gets to live his dream. He is able to entertain children and teach them the values that he holds dear. These include the right foods to eat, and the fact that your “Stepfather isn’t mean, he’s just adjusting.” Sheldon also finds love in the initially antagonistic Nora Wells (Catherine Keener), and protection in the hands of the hilarious Irish Mafia.

Surrounding the interesting dynamic between Williams and Norton is the corrupt world of children’s entertainment that we see. John Stewart plays a television executive that is in the hands of the children’s charity Mafia, as is Sheldon’s manager, played by DeVito. Ultimately, greed leads a climactic battle between good and evil.

Taking a page from David Lynch, DeVito makes the evil seem even more evil by juxtaposing it with the incredibly innocent. The corrupt television and charity groups are all the more evil because they are associated the incredibly pure images of the children’s show. However, much fun is had at the expense of children’s entertainment. This is quite a cynical view of that industry.

Ultimately, this is a crazy, dark comedy that requires a certain sense of humor. It is funnier when you dwell back on some of the insanity, rather than while watching it. There is lots to laugh at, especially Williams’ antics, but the film is also quite funny “hmmmmmmmmm,” as opposed to funny “ha!” This movie is entertaining enough, and it is quite quotable, but it doesn’t reach the heights that it could have.

The video on the DVD is quite good, as you’d expect from such a recent Hollywood film. Of course, it is quite colorful, with all of the kid’s shows going on. However, there is plenty of darkness as well. The contrast is quite good, as is detail. The transfer is 1.85:1, anamorphic widescreen. A separate full-screen DVD is available.

There is nothing to complain about with the audio, but there is also nothing to take note of either. It is a 5.1, Dolby Digital mix that is mostly toward the front, with some surround effects. Again, it complements the film well enough without drawing any attention to itself.

For extras you get a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film. The filmmaking looks to have been quite a riot. You also get a screen-specific, feature-length commentary from DeVito. The commentary has a bit of everything. DeVito is anecdotal, talking about how great the actors were, but also technical, identifying pans, and dissolves, and what he was trying to accomplish. He also acknowledges the “hurt” from the film that tanked LARGE. There is an “Interactive Ice Show,” where you call the shots, an outtakes reel, production stills, and trailers.


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