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Williams sheds his 'cute' side

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Critics and audiences don't disagree on everything, but when it comes to Robin Williams, the battle lines seem to be drawn. Reviewers pan the daylights out of pictures such as "Patch Adams" and "Hook," and moviegoers just as eagerly line up for them.

Well, the hour of reckoning is here.

"Death to Smoochy" has arrived, bringing a Williams we've never seen before, and some of his fans may never want to see again.

What irks many critics about Williams is exactly what other moviegoers seem to love: his endless need to seem cute and charming, often way beyond the demands of the character he's playing.

Even when he tries to stretch his range in a picture like "Bicentennial Man," in which he plays a docile robot, that "please-please-love-me" glint never quite leaves his relentlessly adorable eyes.

Has he finally had enough of his own sweetness? That's one way to explain his "Smoochy" character, a foul-mouthed clown hearkening back less to "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Good Will Hunting" than to his early days as a manic comedian with a shamelessly over-the-top style.

Williams plays Rainbow Randolph, a TV clown with a top-rated children's show. He gets busted for selling guest spots to parents who want their kids in front of the camera, and the show's producers want a squeaky-clean new performer to replace him.

They choose Sheldon Mopes, a straight-arrow entertainer whose kid-friendly alter ego is Smoochy, a guitar-playing rhinoceros. Desperate and demented, Rainbow Randolph vows revenge on the pink-skinned jester who's deposed him.

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