Sundance film review: ‘Thank you for Smoking’

“Thank You for Smoking” is a satire on the talk that big tobacco employs to keep the lines in the smoking debate hazy. The movie is a brilliant comedy, not a lecture, which neither endorses nor condemns cigarettes. The brilliance of featuring smoking is that there is little need to focus on the actual negative effects of sucking down chemically treated carcinogens.

Nick Naylor is the sultan of spin. He is handsome in a Robert Redford, leading man way. He is the face of big tobacco, keeping the science inconclusive and the non-expert, whiny health advocates quiet. While speaking to his son’s class on career day, Naylor is challenged by a plucky girl: “My mommy says cigarettes are bad for you.” Naylor sweetly replies, “Is your mommy a doctor? No? Well she doesn’t exactly sound like a credible expert to me.”

Naylor always stops short of advocating cigarettes outright, and the movie is more of a pro-freedom tale instead of an anti-smoking campaign. In fact, through the entire movie, no one lights up, and no one is smoking. When asked by The Hatchet if smoking were cool, director Jason Reitman, who adapted the screenplay from satirist Christopher Buckley’s novel of the same name, replied, “No, no, smoking is not cool.”

Naylor’s only friends are lobbyists for the alcohol and gun industries. They call themselves the MOD squad (Merchants of Death) and compete for bragging rights for whose product kills the most people. His friends, played by David Koechner (“Anchorman,” “The Office”) and Maria Bello, are fantastic in their zeal to defend their respective products, but sadly get little screen time. The movie makes up for it with thoroughly enjoyable performances by Rob Lowe as a god-like movie executive, William H. Macy as an ?ber-liberal senator and Robert Duvall as the emperor of Big Tobacco. Each character is paramount in his embodiment of the position they satirize, from the main characters to the smaller roles.

The only exception is the passable role of a gorgeous Washington reporter, played by Katie Holmes, who seduces Naylor with what his friends refer to as her “fantastic tits.” The film’s director said it contained a steamy sex scene between the two that was accidentally dropped from the Sundance screening during a reel change. This has spawned swift rumors that Tom Cruise, Holmes’ beau, used his influence to cut the scene. Reitman told the Los Angeles Times that the missing scene was a mistake.

He encouraged the Sundance audience to return to the theaters, where he plans to include the sex scene for the film’s March 17 U.S. release.

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