Joey Naylor: Dad, why is the American government the best government?
Nick Naylor: Because of our endless appeals system.
After seeing "Thank You for Smoking," I had the urge to say "thank you" to director Jason Reitman, but, of course, I don't actually know him.
It's not perfect, but it's often laugh-out-loud funny (as I did, since there were maybe 10 other people there with me in the theater) and uncomfortable to watch, as the best satire should be.
What's really funny? The dialogue, always the first thing I look for in a movie, is very fast and often very sharp. The performances, with one exception I'll discuss later, are dead on. Aaron Eckhart was born to be smug, and Maria Bello and David Koechner keep up with him as his fellow "merchants of death," lobbyists for the alcohol and firearms industries. William H. Macy as an anti-tobacco crusader is flustered and funny from the start, and Adam Brody (Lane Kim's Dave Rigowski, of course) is up to delivering some of the best lines as an ass-kissing Hollywood assistant.
For anyone who doesn't know, here's the basic story, what little there is: Eckhart is Nick Naylor, a cocky and very competent spokesman for big tobacco. I won't tell you any more except, in his mission to keep America smoking, Eckhart works with a Hollywood uber-agent (a game Rob Lowe) to get cigarettes good placement in flicks and is dispatched to bribe the former Marlboro man who has come down with cancer (the always-welcome Sam Elliott). His overmatched nemesis is Macy, a senator from the great state of Vermont.
What I liked most was that Eckhart's Naylor doesn't "see the light" and repent for his evil ways. He knows exactly what he does, and he does it well. Christopher Buckley, who wrote the novel from which director Reitman adapted the flick, didn't set out to expose the underbelly of Washington. He really just scratched it with a very light touch, just enough to make you think a little and laugh a lot.
The two main complaints I've heard have been about Katie Cruise and the story line with Naylor's son Joey, played by Cameron Bright. First, about Katie, I can't manage the level of vitriol she inspires in most people, but they're right. Would Nick Naylor want to, well, nail her? Of course he would, but she never looks or acts remotely like the kind of person who would use that to her tremendous advantage. She's just annoying, but she doesn't do enough damage to ruin the rest of it.
With the kid, I thought he was key in showing just enough of Naylor's conscience, but not enough to spoil the image that he's basically a scumbag. Even under his son's admiring gaze, he remains so, which I thought was crucial.
As for smoking, it's something I did enjoy briefly in my youth and again in my adulthood for a while. I won't deny it: there's something inherently enjoyable about inhaling tobacco smoke. It's something I gave up quite a while ago because, well, it will eventually kill you, and I'm not particularly interested in that.
I still won't ever tell anyone not to light up in my presence. It's their decision, and to me that is the essence of liberty. What right do I have to tell them not to? None, so I don't.
But enough of that. Go see "Thank You for Smoking," laugh a lot, maybe learn a little and, if you want to and still can, smoke one for me.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Posted by Reel Fanatic at 2:27 PM