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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.68%
Worth A Look42.57%
Just Average: 7.92%
Pretty Crappy: 6.93%
Sucks: 10.89%

11 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Thank You for Smoking
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by Jay Seaver

"Over-filtered comedy."
3 stars

"Thank You for Smoking" is just too glib for me to really enjoy. There's funny bits and occasionally energetic direction and performances, and they add up to a good movie, but the vital spark is missing. The creature that Jason Reitman has built from a good novel, an outstanding cast, and an abundance of style never leaps to life and moves about under its own power.

The plot, taken from Christopher Buckley's novel, follows Nick Naylor, Tobacco Industry Lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart), on his quest to keep cigarette legal and unregulated. He reports to BR (J.K. Simmons), the domineering head of the Institute for the Study of Tobacco, and "Captain" Doak Boykin (Robert Duvall), a courtly but steel-willed tobacco magnate. His nemesis is crusading Vermont senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy). In the meantime, he tries to be a good weekend dad to his son Joey (Cameron Bright), co-operate (and then some) with a pretty newspaper reporter (Katie Holmes), and hangs out with his fellow "Merchants of Death": Alcohol lobbyist Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) and gun-industry spokesman Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner). His world is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and plastered with a hugely excessive amount of nicotine patches: He survives, but is told that his next cigarette could kill him.

This is meant to be ironic - he's trying to convince Congress not to pass a law marking cigarettes as poison, but his own life is a perfect counter-example! Unfortunately, Reitman has decided to be clever. One aspect of this cleverness is that he never shows anybody actually handling a lit cigarette. For example, when Nick describes how movies made smoking cool in the first half of the twentieth century, he has to explain it, rather than show it visually. We're given the impression that his quitting is no big deal, because we haven't seen him light up before. It's not just easier, but it means that we don't see Nick viscerally confronting his own hypocrisy. Instead, we just see him feeling vaguely guilty about the example he's setting for his son.

There's two big problems with this approach: First, it requires him to have signs of a conscience way too early for us to enjoy Naylor's slimy amorality as satire or black comedy. Second, it requires a whole lot more use of Cameron Bright than anyone who likes kids should be subjected to. Bright's specialty, for those who haven't had Birth or Ultraviolet inflicted upon them, is the young boy who acts nothing like any child one is likely to encounter in real life. Here, he's one of those kids that uses psychological talk with his parents which is just not precious at all. How are we supposed to care if he loses his innocence when he's already an expressionless kid using grown-up words?

So there, we see that Reitman has blunted a lot of the impact that the story can have, both dramatically and comedically. Which is a crying shame, because it's full of fun comedic performances. Koechner has fun as the gun-nut gun lobbyist, and Rob Lowe's got a nice, fast-talking sequence as a Hollywood agent that Nick feels he could learn from. J.K. Simmons bellows well as BR, and William H. Macy is entertainingly prickly as the senator. On a more serious note, Sam Elliott is nicely dour as Lorne Lutch, a former Marlboro Man dying of lung cancer. It's a shame Katie Holmes is such a non-entity as reporter Heather Holloway.

Reitman gives them a lot of jokes to work with, and keeps the pace fast enough that the audience won't notice that not many of the jokes are hitting. Nick narrates, and will happily jump onto tangents at any moment. These tangents are the best parts of the movie, because they're not as involved in plot or character development, and thus there's no need to create sympathy or motivation. It's okay to be mean during an aside, and that's where the blackest (and funniest) comedy happens. The movie doesn't quite grind to an unfunny halt when it tries to actually tell the story, but it seems to get a lot more careful.

And a lot less fun. The moments where "Thank You" cuts loose are fantastic, but there's far too much mediocre movie in between.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12768&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/23/06 23:46:14
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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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