Rhino, Interrupted

Patient: Death to Smoochy

Profile: Very funny film about the sleazy world of children's TV in which hero Smoochy, a fuchsia rhinoceros, is set upon by everyone from drug-addled children's performers to Nazis to, yes, Harvey Fierstein. Funny, but the pacing in the second half gets so pumped-up, with one misadventure following another in such rapid order, that the movie begins to feel like a lewd Roadrunner cartoon ($29.99, brown paper wrapper, no questions asked). Think Bozo the Clown meets Shakes the Clown meets Tyrannosaurus Sex: Barney Live at the Continental Baths! Symptoms: Smoochy contends that children's TV is controlled by substance-abusing performers, contract killers and the Irish mafia. (Only a slight exaggeration, of course, to anyone familiar with the recently released transcripts from the 1962 Kefauver-Lambchop hearings.) While setting up this world, the movie and jokes zing, helped significantly by, of all people, former comic Robin Williams, who reverts to the days when he was brilliant by being intensely dark and filthy-mouthed and is never funnier than when he is subjecting a herd of kids to all manner of penis euphemisms, culminating with our favorite: "Rumpleforeskin!" Smoochy's problem is that the script stacks nemeses and problems like cordwood, so that the rhino is not only battling Nazis and rival performers but also phony charities, sleazy TV execs and smarmy ice shows. Halfway through, it becomes apparent that nothing is going to happen to Smoochy. What's more, the people who were meanest —and therefore funniest—start turning into Smoochy's friends, which leaves them kind of washed-out and dull. The more that happens, the less tension there is to play off for laughs. With so many story lines that Smoochy extricates himself from almost unwittingly, story arcs span just a few minutes until resolution and play like a Beanie Baby production of Candide. Diagnosis: Yeah, Candide. The Doctor may see bad movies for a living, but he's not a slob.

Prescription:Personally, I was hoping that Smoochy, obviously based on Barney the Dinosaur, would be the film's bad guy. Not because I thought it would make the movie better, but because I had to sit through so many episodes of that prancing loofah and his communist poster children of the corn that I am now diabetic three times over. I would have liked to see him get hit with and deserve a steel beam in the head—but hey, I'm a dreamer. Anyway, as to the actual movie, I think if you free yourself of a story line or two, consolidate a few characters into one—the TV exec, the agent and the crooked head of the fake charity could easily be rolled into one—you're going to be just fine. Planing down your story and case will actually allow you to elongate your story arcs, which, toward the end, come in quicker succession than Tinky Winky at a leather bar.

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