Thank you for Smoking
17-03-06 Seleccionado por: Arty Show
by Manohla Dargis
Glibly funny and eager to please, the film version of Christopher Buckley's novel "Thank You for Smoking" is not unlike the down-and-dirty habit of its title. Like cigarettes, this wisp of a film from the newcomer Jason Reitman won't do much for your brain cells, but it may provide some transitory pleasure from its ostensible equal-opportunity political skewering. Certainly for admirers of its star, the consistently reliable Aaron Eckhart, who plays Nick Naylor, the fast-jiving, fast-running cigarette lobbyist who holds the story together even as he almost falls apart, there is something rather nice about lighting up together, as it were, even by proxy.
Set in the recent past, not long before Big Tobacco started cutting checks for its sick and dying former customers, the film tracks the ups and mostly downs of a Washington lobbyist who's consistently on the hunt for new and inventive ways to rebrand cancer sticks for public consumption. As a Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation memo explained decades ago, "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public." Wearing a million-dollar smile and tailored suit, Nick uses that doubt like a weapon, building on the work done by his employer, the Academy of Tobacco Studies, which Mr. Buckley based on the Tobacco Institute, the onetime trade association for the tobacco industry.
What makes Nick run? There's the money, of course, but mostly, as he confesses in voiceover, he's just good at it. Watching Mr. Eckhart, who appears in almost every scene in the film, such confidence is easy to believe. The actor moved into the small spotlight in 1997 as a seductive villain in Neil LaBute's scabrous "In the Company of Men." Since then, he has ranged across genres, roles and production levels, setting his square jaw to play equally well the nice and the reprobate. Although his blond good looks suggest that he could find steady employment as a B-list romantic lead, there is something overly hard about the cut of his jaw, something too intense in his gaze, which may explain why he routinely shows up as the heavy.
"Thank You for Smoking" isn't his best film (that would be "Erin Brockovich," in which he played a sensitive motorcycle dude), but this is the first role that has given him the room to play both ends of his usual character types, to turn his ingratiating smile into a leer, to charm even as he repels. Indeed, Mr. Reitman keeps the character moving at such a clip that there isn't much time for contemplation, and just when you think you've put a finger on the character and his tar-black heart, Nick is already out the door. Whether he's hanging out with his fellow lobbyists, the other members of a self-anointed troika called the Mod Squad (Merchants of Death, natch), or chauffeuring around his son (played by Cameron Bright), Nick never sits still long enough to become a target.
The film is another matter. Mr. Reitman, who also wrote the screenplay, has a background in television advertising, and it shows. Although he steers his cast through its paces with facility, he tends to oversell jokes that were already plenty loud in the book. His visual gags, somewhat curiously, are generally weak, as if he had absorbed the wrong lessons from his time around the sets of his father's comedies. (As his studio-furnished biography announces rather too eagerly, his father is the director Ivan Reitman.) When Nick delivers a presentation about his job at his son's school, the kid's embarrassment ("please don't ruin my childhood") is funny enough even if the younger Mr. Reitman, who, to judge by the presence of two more fathers dressed as a pilot and a fireman, doesn't know it.
Save for Katie Holmes, straining credulity as a newspaper reporter who beds Nick for a story, the cast is exceptionally fine. To watch and listen as Maria Bello (as an alcohol lobbyist), David Koechner (defending our right to bear semiautomatics), J. K. Simmons (Nick's immediate boss), Robert Duvall (as a Big Tobacco legend) and an excellent Rob Lowe (as a Hollywood agent) put some topspin on their lines or execute a nice bit of business is to witness the satisfactions of a well-oiled movie machine. It's especially pleasant to watch the actors hustle and flow, since thinking too hard about "Thank You for Smoking" and the exact nature of its gored sacred cows can prove, if not dangerous to your health, more than a little irritating.
"Thank You for Smoking" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes mild violence, discreet sex and, of course, countless cigarettes.
Directed by Jason Reitman; written by Mr. Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley; director of photography, James Whitaker; edited by Dana E. Glauberman; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by David O. Sacks; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 92 minutes.
WITH: Aaron Eckhart (Nick Naylor), Maria Bello (Polly Bailey), Cameron Bright (Joey Naylor), Adam Brody (Jack Bein), Sam Elliott (Lorne Lutch), Katie Holmes (Heather Holloway), David Koechner (Bobby Jay Bliss), Rob Lowe (Jeff Megall), William H. Macy (Senator Finistirre), J. K. Simmons (B. R.) and Robert Duvall (the Captain).