Ever since the smoking ban on New York City I have enjoyed the Big Apple's nightlife twice as much. In fact, leaving New York at all discourages me because many other states still having disgusting smoking sections in which the chimney-like masochists' pollution oozes into my precious space where I'm happily slurping down high-cholesterol, mainstream food. As much as I'd like to expound on how much I hate cigarette smoke, Thank You For Smoking isn't really about smoking - it's about manipulation and morale flexibility. This film could focus on just about any controversial issue, really, and still convey the same theme: "If you argue correctly, you're never wrong."
Aaron Eckhart (Any Given Sunday, Erin Brockovich) plays Nick Naylor - Big Tobacco's chief spokesman and a loving, yet estranged, father. His bitchy wife in a mullet doesn't let Nick see his son nearly as much as he'd like. But that seems for the best since his son is played by that alien-like kid from Godsend in which Rebecca Romijn and Greg Kinnear get their dead son cloned. Between Mullet Mom and the creepiest damn kid I've ever laid eyes on, I couldn't stand Nick's family time. So when he starts boinking Katie Holmes, Girl Reporter, I was somewhat relieved. Somewhat - until I suffered flashes of Katie and Tom Cruise DOING IT to make their own freaky alien baby! And then I realized that this is a family movie - not the genre, but rather the production itself is founded on nepotism.
I couldn't quite put my finger on what made this film so mediocre. The script is tight but the characters are a little sloppy. We're to believe the only reason Nick prostitutes for his Big Tobacco pimp is because he likes a challenge?! Despite the ongoing mortgage joke, Nick, the guy who exclaims, "I'm a man of the people," doesn't seem money-driven at all. The film felt a bit flimsy and then I discovered why - it's written and directed by Jason Reitman, better known as "The Son of Ivan Reitman." I just saw Jason at a short film festival on the upper eastside. (You know it's bad when "indie" films are screened in that neighborhood.) Jason hosted and had three or four shorts showing that night. They were all L-A-M-E, and just when we were wondering how this kid had enough recognition to play ringleader at such an event, Ivan Reitman appeared and whispered into his son's ear. It's not that young Jason sucks, it's just that he has no vision of his own. From his Coca-Cola award-winning short films, to Thank You For Smoking, the guy seems scared to take chances. He's close, but not there. (Blame it on all that character he DIDN'T build by NOT working through college like the rest of us.)
Thank You For Smoking's highlights include William H. Macy (Magnolia) as a Vermont liberal who instructs one of his representatives that a quality Cancer Boy will have a goldfish in a Ziploc baggie. Timothy Dowling as Rob Lowe's L.A. assistant was a rare treat, along with the whole robotic L.A. theme. But despite its attempts to be free-thinking, Thank You For Smoking delivers the same over-processed cheese. This is especially clear at the end when Maria Bello (A History of Violence) says to David Koechner (Anchorman) of the melted cheese atop his slice of apple pie, "That's disgusting," to which he replies, "It's American!"
There's nothing more American than bad movies, but at least Thank You For Smoking wants to be good. It really, really does. But I can't help wishing that Ivan Reitman had caught young Jason making movies at an early age and forced the kid to smoke a whole pack and get it out of his system.
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