Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Thank You for Smoking (2006)

Just as it's unwise to fight fire with fire, it's similarly unwise to fight smugness with smugness, and that's why this film fails. The lead character, one Nick Naylor (portrayed by Aaron Eckhart as though his character from In the Company of Men had been reborn as a game-show host), is one of the smarmiest bastards on the face of the earth. He has good reason to be smarmy, too, since smugness rises out of a sense of superiority and Naylor is indeed a superior debater. The opening scene is an acrid example of that, as Naylor sways a studio audience by convincingly claiming that anti-smoking advocates want to see little kids with cancer die. The whole film needed to be on the level of that opening scene, bleak and nasty. But writer/director Jason Reitman, in a frenzied attempt to disassociate himself from Naylor's actions, allows himself to feel superior to Naylor, thus infusing the film with the kind of smug hypocrisy it's ostensibly against. Having done that, Reitman then cuts his own throat by not giving himself any characters with which to align himself against Naylor - every other character is a phony weasel. (Even William H. Macy's crusading Senator is depicted as a gladhanding publicity whore.) By not finding a side to choose, Reitman's superiority complex takes the teeth out of the material -- by constructing straw men on all sides, there's nothing he can do to keep his material from burning out. It has good moments, mostly courtesy of Eckhart, who's effective even though he's merely coasting on the fumes of his signature role (the scene where he talks a cancer-stricken Sam Elliot into accepting hush money is a refugee from some other, sharper film), but if Reitman wouldn't want to spend time in a room with these characters, why should we?

Grade: C


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