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Thank You for Smoking
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by Todd LaPlace

"No, thank you."
5 stars

For better or worse, nepotism keeps Hollywood humming. Sometimes it’s good (Angelina Jolie, Michael Douglas) and sometimes it’s bad (the Arquettes, the Baldwins), but it’s almost always annoying at first. We can’t watch anything without constantly being reminded that the directors, the writers and/or the actors are relatives of pre-existing celebrities. Case in point: “Thank You for Smoking.” The original story was written by Christopher Buckley, the son of William F. The movie was written and directed by Jason Reitman, son of Ivan. That is the only time I will mention these facts, because their movie is so good, it stands on its own. Screw Ivan and his upcoming “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”; I’d rather see more from Jason.

About 20 or 30 minutes into “Thank You for Smoking,” there is a scene in which Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), watching an old war movie with his sleepy son, reaches for his pack of cigarettes and frowns when he finds it empty. It’s almost a bland throw-away scene that’s only included because it has to be, providing a bridge between a better scene and the next, but it’s not there because it’s meaningful. But, in his oddly nuanced manner, writer/director Jason Reitman chose to upgrade this scene, actually making it significant. This is the closest anyone comes to actually smoking a cigarette.

Like Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” “Smoking” never specifically says it’s a satire, entrusting the interpretation to the audience. It is in the small moments, like Nick’s empty pack, that the tongue-in-cheekiness lays. Conceptually, it’s subtle, but constant. In practice, the hilarity knocks you like a brick. If you’re one of those people who think Stephen Colbert is a serious conservative that believes in the merits of truthiness, you might miss “Smoking’s” barbs at Big Tobacco. Otherwise, “Smoking” is honest-to-God perfection, a flawless blend of satire, social barbs and non-stop laughs.

Technically a vice president for lobby group The Academy of Tobacco Studies, Nick is really tobacco’s lead spokesman, an extremely gifted spin artist, a professional bullshitter for the most despised industry in the country. The most vocal opponents call him a pimp, a blood sucker, a mass murderer and, to continue to abuse the fun trailer phrase, yuppie Mephistopheles. His only friends are his fellow M.O.D. squad members, alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and gun spokesman Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), but their favorite games involve one-upping each other on their death tolls (Nick always wins). In case you couldn’t tell, M.O.D. stands for Merchants of Death.

His other regular buddy is also his biggest fan, his tweenage son Joey (creepy “Birth” kid Cameron Bright). At first, Joey’s relationship with his oft-absent father is quite strained. When Nick attends his son’s career day, he walks past Joey who mutters, “Please don’t ruin my childhood.” The two bond, though, as Joey accompanies Nick on a trip to California. In order to better cigarettes standing in society, Nick suggests Hollywood reinstate the product’s cool sex appeal. In the classic “To Have and To Hold,” Bacall starts her seduction of Bogie by asking for a light, and Nick wants the likes of Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones to do the same, although much more graphically (does Pitt know how to blow smoke rings?).

Ultimately, Nick just wants to do what he does best. As he says, “Michael Jordan plays ball. Charlie Manson kills people. I talk.” As Big Tobacco’s mouthpiece, though, his life isn’t quite that simple. His day-to-day forces him to deal with a number of kooks and crooks on both sides of the issue, and he’s armed only with his talk to convince them to bend to his will. Tobacco king, the Captain (Robert Duvall), a man with an army of mint julep-wielding black servants, wants to see Nick rise through the ranks of tobacco, but sends him to conduct shady dealings with that Hollywood bigwig (Rob Lowe) and the original Marlboro Man (Sam Elliot), who’s now vocally anti-cigarette. He has to outwit a sexy Washington reporter (Katie Holmes), although his pension for her body may cause him to spill a few too many secrets on the record. And his toughest opponent, Vermont Sen. Ortolan Finistirre (the always magnificent William H. Macy), may take a big chunk out of Big Tobacco by forcing a skull and crossbones image onto every pack, and he may do it by taking a big chunk out of Nick.

But if there’s one thing Nick — as well as Reitman and novelist Christopher Buckley — is genuinely good at, it’s talking. Even in his most down moments — repeat after me, Nick, “off the record” — a quick word from Nick can speak volumes and change the whole game. As Nick says, “The beauty of argument is that if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” And it’s not just Nick either. He may have the wit, but the subtly is spread around. The Captain’s great line: “I was in Korea shooting Chinese in 1952. Now they’re our best customers. Next time we won’t have to shoot so many of them.” The Marlboro Man’s line: “I didn’t even smoke Marlboros. I smoked Kools.” Even the brown-nosing assistant to the Hollywood bigwig (a scene-stealing Adam Brody) spits gold: “That sand’s not gonna rake itself, Hiroshi”…okay, so not all of the jokes translate to text, but trust me, it’s one of the best scenes in the movie.

I’m not sure what draws Eckhart to morally-questionable, scumbag business men — uh, “In the Company of Men,” anyone? — but I hope “Smoking” pigeonholes him in the character. He has done strong work in nice-guy roles, like as the romantic interest in “Erin Brockovich,” but this is the stuff that careers are made of. Even with a brilliant script, it was Eckhart (and a stellar supporting cast) that brought the laughs and life. His Nick is so good, he nearly made me buy some Marlboros. “Smoking” may be slyly superficial — its anti-smoking message is pretty universal at this point — but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I laughed, I chuckled, I snickered, I chortled and I found a movie I’ll gladly shell out another $10 to see again.

Even at a quick 92 minutes, Reitman has managed to cram his film full of funny fiction (other highlights include “The Joan Lunden Show” and a kidnapping attempt), but it’s never to the point of excess. If your wit is quick enough, it’s never confusing and never bland. The script is superb, the direction is flawless and the actors (even the overexposed Holmes) are spot on. I’m ready for more.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12768&reviewer=401
originally posted: 04/24/06 00:22:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/29/10 Simon Solid film,tho Reitman's direction/script too deliberate/cutesy at times, there's potential 4 stars
5/21/09 Jeff Wilder Not as biting as it could be. But works better as a satire than pap like American Dreamz, 4 stars
4/20/08 art AN EXCELLENT SATIRE 4 stars
10/18/07 Jake H laughed all the way through it 5 stars
10/03/07 The Film Maker You're welcome! 3 stars
7/14/07 Bitchflaps Not all that funny, and pretty lightweight stuff for the "biting satire" it was hyped to be 2 stars
6/30/07 LC3 A humorous look at the criminal language of control on all fronts. A must see! 5 stars
6/07/07 Black Smoke A quality satire about the stupidity of current society 4 stars
5/19/07 Vann Helms Embarrassing plot; no one ever smokes 1 stars
4/01/07 fools♫gold high-handed, high-hearted, and highbrowed 5 stars
1/30/07 Albert Stone Hillarious stuff, great satire. I loved it. 5 stars
12/02/06 Monday Morning One of the smartest satires I've ever seen. Hilarious, too. 5 stars
10/24/06 Drew G Aaron Eckharts best film yet 4 stars
10/14/06 Phil M. Aficionado Absolutely the right tone and look and mood; terrific and meaningful satire. 4 stars
10/06/06 jwil best satire in years; disregard the one star comments 5 stars
8/25/06 michael dont let the title scare you away 4 stars
8/25/06 helen bradley very slow slow paced poor scritping boring boring 1 stars
7/06/06 pym Very funny, wonerfully sarcastic, great message: freedom of personal choice. 5 stars
5/21/06 Denise Bauman I enjoyed it. 4 stars
5/10/06 Joel Hoffman Very funny and quick witted. Never a dull moment. I really enjoyed this movie. 4 stars
5/06/06 luke funny, smart. very good film. 5 stars
4/27/06 Jen Wilson Not bad... not sure I would see it again, though 3 stars
4/22/06 Mase Everything you can ask for, from a smart political movie with a topnotch cast. 5 stars
4/22/06 Ryan well cast, light but thoughtful humor 4 stars
4/21/06 Suzz As funny as lung cancer; boring; poorly written; does well by nutcase conservatives 1 stars
4/18/06 Annie G A fascinating look at lobbyists. Funny and thoughtful. 4 stars
4/16/06 Agent Sands Any movie that makes the bad guy look good to the point where it's funny; that's a movie!!! 5 stars
3/30/06 Marco Pole Tired witless banter... Why is it getting attention? Director is Son of Ivan Reitman.. 1 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson A great satire! 5 stars
3/12/06 Jack Absolutely amazing. Just saw a screening at the USCAF 5 stars
9/16/05 jim A must see! An excellent film. 5 stars
9/12/05 Alex Brisbourne Excellent script, engagingly constructed 4 stars
9/12/05 Trish Great Movie - saw at TO International Film Fest 4 stars
9/10/05 A Hayes Brilliant 5 stars
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  17-Mar-2006 (R)
  DVD: 03-Oct-2006



Directed by
  Jason Reitman

Written by
  Jason Reitman

  Aaron Eckhart
  Maria Bello
  Sam Elliott
  Katie Holmes
  William H. Macy
  Rob Lowe

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