Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is on top of his game--he's the eponymous star of the highest rated kid's TV show Rainbow Randolph has his own Times Square billboard and makes lots of money. Until that is he gets caught taking bribes from stage parents. Suddenly he becomes the social pariah of the millennium and of course gets canned. Losing Rainbow Randolph however leaves the network in a bind. Now they have to find a squeaky-clean replacement pronto. Enter Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) and his alter-ego Smoochy an abnormally large fuschia rhino who sings children's songs about kicking drug habits and stepdads who aren't mean but simply adjusting. With his naivete unwavering ethics and unflagging ambition to make the world a better place he becomes the new number one show. Sheldon soon learns however how cutthroat children's entertainment can be as the powers that be try to corrupt his ideals. Meanwhile a homeless Randolph makes it his number-one priority to destroy the bastard who stole his life. Who's going to get Smoochy first the corrupt businessmen or crazy Rainbow Randy? Stay tuned...
When you hear the Smoochy cast list--Williams Danny DeVito Jon Stewart Catherine Keener--you automatically think mondo laughs. Added to the list is Norton who may not be known for his comedic talents but certainly adds credibility to the movie especially given that he rarely picks bad scripts. Luckily no one disappoints. Norton plays the straight guy with aplomb and shines brilliantly when singing his sappy yet lesson-filled songs. Keener whom we haven't seen since her Oscar-nominated turn in Being John Malkovich is also a standout as the jaded development VP who falls for Sheldon's sweet manner. She has an uncanny way of delivering lines that bite to the bone. And then there's Williams--as always he has extraordinary moments of sheer hilarity in the film. This isn't one of those films where the comedian has to attempt to act or simply be reined in by the director (as some have done) to give a good performance. Director DeVito (who also plays the greedy agent) is wise enough to simply turn the camera on the comedian and let him go. Just wish we could have seen more of him.
Ever wonder what it would be like to kill Barney? We're betting DeVito thought about it quite often--and things never turn out good for that purple dinosaur. The premise of Smoochy is one of the funnier ones in recent memory and seems to follow the dark comedic path DeVito has chosen in his other directorial efforts including War of the Roses and Throw Momma From the Train. Unfortunately Smoochy doesn't quite hold up to its hype (or its trailers) because basically it focuses on the wrong character. It's got some great moments granted especially when Smoochy is on his show. But instead of being about Randy's obsession to do away with his replacement the film chooses to follow Mopes and deal with the dirty business of making a kid's show which appears to involve the Mob (whatever). Smoochy would have been a lot funnier if Randolph could have finally succeeded in his quest instead of getting all sappy.
Told from the perspective of one innocent maid Mary Macearchran (Kelly MacDonald) the story starts as she arrives at the magnificent country estate of Gosford Park. On this particular weekend host Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) have invited an eclectic group to the house for a shooting party. The guests include Sylvia's two sisters (Geraldine Somerville Natasha Wightman) their respective loser husbands (Charles Dance Tom Hollander) her cantankerous aunt Constance (Maggie Smith) for whom Mary works British matinee idol Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam) and his American friend Morris Weisman (Bob Balaban) a film producer who makes Charlie Chan movies. As the upper-crust guests bicker about money and power the ranks of house servants personal maids and valets below make sure their charges are well taken care of under the guidance of the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) head housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) and head cook Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Through Mary's eyes we see that the glamour of the upstairs patrons and the seeming precision downstairs are not all they seem. The two worlds are destined to collide and when they do it leads to only one thing--murder.
One of the joys of an Altman movie is his uncanny ability to take a huge ensemble cast of really good actors and carve out a film from their personal stories. This style can also work to the film's detriment however and in Gosford Park the mostly British cast melds together almost too well. Often you can't even tell who's who. Still with all the talent involved there are at least a few bright moments: Smith as the wisecracking Constance an old lady who's very used to being waited on hand and foot gets all the best lines and delivers them flawlessly and veteran actress Mirren is also brilliant as the staunch Mrs. Wilson. She turns in one of the film's only heartbreaking scenes as her character grieves for the son she gave away long ago in the name of servitude. Also good are MacDonald as the young Mary Clive Owen as the valet Robert Parks who carries more than just a chip on his shoulder and Emily Watson as the headstrong chief housemaid Elsie. Northam too shows off his musical abilities as the suave piano-playing singing Novello. The rest all blend together except unfortunately the two American actors--Balaban comes off as annoying and Ryan Phillippe playing an actor pretending to be Morris' valet is in way over his head.
Interestingly the film is taken from a story idea dreamt up by Altman and Balaban. One wonders if perhaps the two were inspired to create Park after watching an episode of the classic '70s British television drama Upstairs Downstairs which was about a wealthy British household whose servant class had just as many dramas as the people they served (hmm sounds familiar). Sure it's conceivable that two Americans sitting around talking about making a distinctly British movie (and a period piece to boot) could pull it off and with a tremendous talent like Altman attached you'd think it would work. But Park misses the mark. The Altman-esque qualities are all there--the way he interweaves his characters' stories and shows real people with real emotions--but maybe just maybe Altman is simply out of his element. You enjoy the ride but it's not a ride through appealing territory and you're definitely watching from the window as the characters live a life you never really become a part of.
Marvin Mange (Schneider) works in the evidence room of a small town police station. He has always wanted to become a full-fledged police officer and follow in his father's footsteps only he's too wimpy to pass the physical endurance test. Nothing is looking good for this asthmatic loser until his car goes careening off a cliff. Marvin survives thanks to the cabin-bound Dr. Wilder (Michael Caton) who after having cracked the genetic code patches him back together with various animal organs. With no memory of what has happened to him Marvin goes about his daily life until strange things start to happen. He develops abnormally acute senses and after sniffing out a heroin-filled balloon located in a drug smuggler's butt he becomes a local hero and--best of all--a real cop. His antics get the attention of Rianna (Colleen Haskell) a volunteer at a local animal shelter. A hardcore vegetarian Rianna finds Marvin's ability to catch a Frisbee with his mouth and regurgitate a worm for a motherless baby turkey endearing. But Marvin is quickly losing his battle with his animal self and keeping up appearances becomes increasingly difficult.
It is very difficult not to sympathize with Schneider's character in this film. With his big droopy eyes you almost get the impression that even Schneider feels sorry for Marvin. And even though his lines are not inherently funny and the delivery is slightly blasé his stunts are really rather amusing. He actually looks like a cheetah when he runs and he licks his leg with the genuine elegance of a feline. And you have to respect Schneider for not taking the same route that so many other Saturday Night Live alumnus have stretching a good five minute skit into a disastrous two hour feature film (imagine watching a cinematic version of Richard "The Richmeister" Laymer). As for Haskell (Survivor) though she is incredibly adorable and natural looking she delivers her lines so slowly that she almost sounds childlike. Thank goodness there were not too many multi-syllabic words written into the script for her character Rianna. Bemusing cameo appearances from both Norm Macdonald and Adam Sandler add to the film's climax.
First-time director Luke Greenfield does a great job with the stunts (like Schneider gliding across the water like a circus seal or running inside a man-sized hamster wheel). They'll leave you wondering how they did it. Some props deserve an honorable mention like Marvin's bachelor pad with the garage door doubling as a home entertainment center or Dr. Wilder's barnyard laboratory. But while Schneider's antics will have you laughing they are not enough to carry the entire film. Tom Brady who wrote the screenplay with Schneider has worked on television shows such as The Simpsons and Men Behaving Badly and should have delivered nothing less than solid laugh-a-minute comedy-but didn't. The story leads up to a disappointing conclusion that looks like it was drawn up in 60 seconds. Nonetheless the story is sweet in its own corny sort of way.