Friday, March 17, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

Title: Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Dir: Jason Reitman
Tagline: Nick Naylor doesn't hide the truth...he filters it.
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

For the Diamondback...

Thank You For Smoking could not have come at a better time. No, I am not referring to the conveniently-timed Katie Holmes sex scene scandal that put this movie on the map. Rather, I mean the film is a breath of fresh air amidst the painfully unfunny comedies in theaters lately.

Director Jason Reitman (son of Ghostbusters director Ivan) has crafted a witty satire that appeals to intellectuals, activists, and general moviegoers alike. It is a smart movie, but you won’t need a PhD to be entertained. The humor is fresh, fast-paced, and so dead-on accurate it is almost eerie.

Based on Christopher Buckley’s novel of the same name, Thank You For Smoking follows Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich), a notorious lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Often called “The Sultan of Spin”, Naylor prides himself on the ability to twist any argument in his favor. With a wink and a smile, he can convince anyone that smoking is not only harmless, but can actually save lives.

When not being paid to talk, Naylor hangs at the bar with Polly Bailey (Maria Bello, A History of Violence), lobbyist for alcohol, and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner, Anchorman), lobbyist for guns. Calling themselves the MOD Squad (“Merchants of Death”), the trio frequently argues over whose employer has killed the most people. Although portrayed as immoral, it is impossible to not love every minute they are onscreen.

Like the MOD Squad, every character in this movie is hilarious. The ever-amazing J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) plays Naylor’s tough-as-nails boss, while legendary Godfather actor Robert Duvall portrays the grandpa of the tobacco industry, simply known as “Captain”.

These two send Naylor on a variety of outings, including an attempt to bribe the original Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott, Hulk) who is now dying of cancer and eager to renounce tobacco. Naylor also visits an eccentric Hollywood agent (a hilarious cameo by Rob Lowe) to try and put more cigarettes on film.

Rounding out the movie’s cast are Holmes (Batman Begins) as a reporter willing to do anything for a scoop on Naylor, and William H. Macy (Fargo) as the Vermont senator and token anti-tobacco liberal.

As Naylor himself, Eckhart is great. He exudes the charm and confidence to make you love watching him, but also shows a human side, particularly in scenes with son Joey (Cameron Bright, Ultraviolet). Everyone else is equally wonderful in their roles. Even the weakest actors (ahem, Katie) manage to shine here.

There are a lot of great blink-and-miss-them jokes in the film. For instance, Lowe’s agent works for a company called EGO (Entertainment Global Offices). Jokes like that are very common throughout, and you probably won’t catch them all the first time. Reitman’s attention to detail is astounding, and every single in-joke earns a laugh.

Aside from its great comedic timing and stellar cast, Smoking’s best attribute is that it doesn’t preach to the audience. Rather than being caught up in the issue of who is right, the film steps back and satires the absurdity surrounding the “war on tobacco”.

Neither the industry nor its liberal opponents are safe from the film’s mockery. Politicians, film agents, business executives – they are all fair game to Reitman. With lines like, “If you want an easy job, go work for the Red Cross”, this movie does not submit to political correctness. For that reason, it provides pure satire at its best.

The humor is never stuffy or dry, as one might expect from a film about politics. Almost everything in the story is fictional and so absurd that it’s practically fantasy. It has a dark-but-absurdly-comical feel usually found only in Coen Brothers films.

Reitman’s biggest flaw as a director is that he can be overzealous. Since this is his first major feature, some MTV-style flashiness is to be expected. Particularly at the film’s start, he likes to speed up the frames, or randomly film a scene on video. But as the movie gets moving, this is less obvious and the story takes center stage.

Do not watch this film expecting a Michael Moore-style attack on corporate tobacco. It is a reality-based fantasy with a constant stream of light-hearted humor. Thank You For Smoking does not ask you to question your morals, but simply aims to entertain (with a healthy level of intelligence). Whether you are pro- or anti-tobacco, you will be laughing from opening to closing credits.


Alex said...

Wow, they let you get away with citing Fargo?