Thank You For Smoking
What is it these days with the offspring of famed directors jumping behind the camera and instantly outstripping the last few decades of their daddies’ careers? Even if Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman’s thoroughly entertaining new dark comedy Thank You for Smoking is a far cry from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, it’s certainly the best comedy to bear the Reitman family name since the halcyon days of Ghostbusters.
Aaron Eckhart stars as Nick Naylor, ace bullshit artist for the tobacco industry. He’s not only good at lying, looking slick, and thinking on his feet, he’s the best—and he loves his job. Over the course of Smoking, however, Naylor bumps heads with a number of worthy adversaries: Sen. Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy), a gung-ho congressman who sees cynical potential for political advancement in an anti-smoking stance; reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes), who’s not above using her physical charms if it’ll help her rake some muck; and Naylor’s own son, tween-aged Joey (Cameron Bright), who’s old enough to ask some tough questions about his father’s job.
It would only be slightly overselling Smoking to compare it to Alexander Payne’s excellent Citizen Ruth. Much as Ruth brutally skewered all sides of the abortion debate, Smoking takes no prisoners in showcasing the hypocrisy of not just the tobacco industry and its legions of scientific, legal, and public-relations defenders, but also anti-smoking crusaders. Ultimately, this leads the movie to a libertarian conclusion—smoking kills, but smokers should know better without governments having to tell them so—that feels like a cop-out, and serves neither its audience nor some of its characters particularly well. Still, before we reach those final moments, both sides of the debate can cheer while the other team takes its hits.
Besides, Smoking is just pretty damn fun. Reitman’s screenplay has flashes of simply terrific dialogue. And while the quality of performances here vary—Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall, Maria Bello, and David Koechner all shine in lively supporting roles; Holmes falls flat; Dennis Miller, makes an unwelcome appearance—there isn’t a single performer who doesn’t appear to be having a ball.
Over its 90-something minutes, Smoking provides few belly laughs, but rather sustains a respectably high level of all-American, meanspirited good cheer. It works well enough to forgive its wishy-washy political conclusion, its uneven pacing and performances, and at least one gaping plot hole—and well enough to suggest that should the elder, floundering Reitman want to recapture his mojo, he might look to his son for a few pointers.