Thank You for Smoking
United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date:
R (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Sam Elliott, Katie Holmes, David Koechner, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Kim Dickens, Rob Lowe
Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley
Thank You for Smoking is the feature debut of Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman, who has assembled an impressive cast. In addition to Aaron Eckhart, who has the lead, the credit list includes the following names: Katie Holmes, Cameron Bright, Sam Elliot, Rob Lowe, Maria Bello, William H. Macy, and Robert Duvall. Now, that's star power! While so much wattage doesn't guarantee a home run, a double or triple should be the minimum requirement. Yet, at best, Reitman delivers a bleeder up the middle. It is a disappointment.
There are few things less inspiring than flabby satires. And that's what Thank You for Smoking is. It chooses easy targets (What's less controversial than going after big business, cigarette manufacturers, politicians, and lobbyists?) and lobs soft bombs. There's nothing hard-hitting about any of Reitman's material. His blades are dull and most of his attacks echo those done in more edgy material. Good satire demands envelope pushing. There's nothing like that in Thank You for Smoking. It plays it safe (although Reitman would probably argue otherwise). In fact, as an attack on the practices of American corporations, it lacks half the punch delivered by the Oscar nominated Enron documentary.
Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is a spin master par excellence. As a spokesperson for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, he is viewed as a "yupppie Mephistopheles" and is often called worse. In the publicity war being waged by Big Tobacco, he's weapon #1. But the road ahead is not smooth. A dying tobacco baron (Duvall) wants him to bribe the cancer-stricken original Marlboro Man (Sam Elliot) to keep him from badmouthing the cigarette companies. He has to convince a Hollywood exec (Lowe) to make smoking sexy in movies again. He has to spin an expose being written by a reporter (Holmes) with whom he's having sex. And he has to babysit his son (Bright). All this, plus a kidnapping and a subpoena to testify in front of a Senate committe chaired by a Vermont moralizer (Macy).
Just because it isn't edgy doesn't mean it's not funny. Thank You for Smoking delivers some laughs, and there are a few instances when Reitman sinks his teeth into a worthwhile concept. For example, the trio of Nick, an alcohol lobbyist, and a firearms lobbyist, comprise a group nicknamed the "MOD Squad." "MOD" stands for "Merchants of Death." And the scene in which Nick talks Mr. Marlboro out of pursuing his grievance against the Big Tobacco is slickly written. Unfortunately, the high points don't obscure the instances when Reitman becomes sloppy or doesn't push the material hard enough.
The acting is solid. Aside from Eckhart, who is in top form, special notice should be made of Lowe and Macy, each of whom steals most of the scenes in which they appear. The only one who seems out-of-place is Katie Holmes, who lacks the brio required to pull off her backstabbing part. Or maybe the problem is that she's overexposed at the moment. Whatever the reason, she's the lone acting misfire. Yet, despite its many strengths, Thank You for Smoking hovers around mediocrity, and its lasting impression is like a puff of smoke that is dissipated by a strong gust of wind.