Thank You For Smoking

3 stars


20th July 2006

Although I can't stomach cigarettes myself, I'm with Bill Hicks when it comes to the attitude towards the humble cancer stick and those who chew on her: "Non-smokers... I'd probably quit if I didn't think I'd become one of you." It's an ongoing battle between the two warring factions; the non-smokers arguing with the moral high ground and allusions of health and safety on their side, while the smokers simply shrug, claim personal choice and take another lengthy draw. Thankfully, one man who fully realises the ridiculousness of the situation is director Jason 'son of Ivan' Reitman, who passes up the opportunity to pledge allegiance to either party, playing Thank You For Smoking purely for laughs.

"You know that guy who can get any girl? I'm him. On crack." Say hello to Nick Naylor (Eckhart), spokesperson for Big Tobacco and a man who could charm his way into the Queen's royal boudoir if the fancy took him. Dare to engage him in an argument about smoking and the man will drown you in enough bullshit to fertilise a football field; thank the Lord he's merely a tobacco lobbyist, because if he put his mind to becoming a lawyer, that gleaming smile could put away the Pope. Not the most popular of souls due to his profession - it's Nick's job to encourage people that smoking is harmless and cool - he faces opposition from, amongst others, Vermont State Senator Ortolan K. Finistirre (Macy) and ruthless reporter Heather Holloway (Holmes), not to mention the death threats he receives from anonymous vigilant anti-smoking groups. His only friends are his fellow death-mongers, the MOD squad: the other Merchants of Death being David Koechner's gun lobbyist and Maria Bello's alcohol representative. With such company, you can understand why it's hard to raise his 12-year old son Joey (Cameron Bright) with a full set of morals.

It was a smart move giving the part of slimeball Naylor to Eckhart, who has an absolute riot with the role: this guy's been pegging away for years and hasn't played a character this juicy since Neil LaBute's Your Friends And Neighbours. With a grin that could single-handedly raise the sale of sunglasses and a swagger of a man who knows he can do no wrong, it's impossible not to fall for him immediately. However, despite having a fine ensemble cast at his disposable, Reitman fails to give him any decent opposition, allowing Naylor to hit a home run every time - it's just far too easy to root for him. William H. Macy's Senator is a goofy loser (no surprise there Mr. Macy) who couldn't argue his way into a paper bag, let alone out of it, while his mouthpiece in Todd Louiso is a jittery doofus who allows himself to be steamrollered by Naylor's spin on national TV. Reitman is also guilty of generalising the roles of Nick's cohorts; Koechner's gun safety spokesman is a closet psychopath while Bello has a drink in her hand every scene.

Despite some two-dimensional co-stars, there are some great cameos to be found, in particular Rob Lowe's movie producer (a man so driven by revenue he's willing to have his characters smoking in outer space) and The OC's Adam Brody as his toady assistant, a young man who talks so much, even Nick can't get a word in edgeways. A scene between Eckhart and Lowe, discussing how to give cigarettes a positive spin in Hollywood, probably cuts a lot closer to the bone than intended - given the level of product placement involved in the movies today, you can totally imagine Michael Bay bending over to receive the money dick. Another fantastic scene sees Nick visit the home of Sam Elliot's cancer-stricken ex-Marlboro Man with a suitcase of hush money; despite the initial resistance to accept on moral grounds, Naylor has him on his knees counting the cash in mere minutes. Despite a fairly brief run time of 92 minutes, you simply couldn't have a movie long enough about this guy - his argument with the MOD squad over whose vice causes the most deaths per year is sublimely ridiculous. Every moment he's off-screen, you'll get withdrawal symptoms and be desperate for your next hit of Nick-o-tine.

The key to enjoying Thank You For Smoking is not to take it seriously, as it's obviously got its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. In a film where the characters are caricatured to the point of parody - you half expect Nick's teeth to glint in the sun - using it to support an argument for or against smoking would be entirely fruitless. Despite a few underwritten roles here and there and an ending that doesn't quite give leave you on a high, Thank You For Smoking is a smartly written comedy that never deems it necessary to glorify or condemn the filthy habit. Smoker or not, you'll get a kick out of it.

More:  Comedy
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