Thank You for Smoking***1/2Sasha StoneThank You for Smoking comes at a time when Calabasas has banned all smoking in public areas. The Jason Reitman film takes a satirical look at the conundrum of advertising versus personal freedom. The truth is up for interpretation and the only thing you need to win any argument is to prove the other side is wrong. You don’t even have to be right. Such is the credo tobacco lobbyist and superman Nick Naylor (a devilish Aaron Eckhart) whose job is to spin tobacco’s bad press. He describes himself early on as the guy who everyone hates, yet also as someone who sinks his teeth into life, taking no prisoners, “I’m the guy who gets the girl…on crack.” Indeed, the film does anything but make us hate Naylor – we love him. We fall for his charm and charisma, believe his arguments, want him to succeed. This proves the old Hitchcock theory that an audience will root for someone even if they are doing wrong because we’re empathetic to their cause.The film opens while Naylor is appearing on the Joan Lunden show with various typical characters in the tobacco war – “Cancer Boy,” a bald and pathetic youngster who wishes he’d never started smoking, an angry mother and of course, a well-meaning liberal senator (well, a senator’s lackey anyway). None of them are any match for Naylor who eats people like this for lunch.He argues that the senator wants “Cancer Boy” to die so that they can blame it on big tobacco, and is so persuasive by the end of it, that people think him the good guy and the senator the bad guy. He works magic with his monument to spin.Naylor ends up dragging his son along with him while he does one sleazy thing after the next – bribing the “Marlborough Man,” who is dying of cancer, to stay quiet, visiting a Hollywood producer (a hilarious Rob Lowe) and sleazing in and out of one situation after another, always the rolling stone, never gathering moss. His Achilles heel is his own self-confidence. When a reporter (a miscast, bad acting Katie Holmes) sleeps with him then betrays him his career is nearly ruined.Reitman (director Ivan Reitman’s son) adapted the script of the beloved Christopher Buckley novel and that is where his strengths lie. The direction is a tad green in places, like it can’t decide if it wants to be Election or The Candidate or Primary Colors. But the writing is strong enough to keep the film from collapsing.There is nothing that can take the place of personal choice or personal freedom and it takes a whole film, a lot of wonderfully wicked jokes to get to the moment where Naylor starts making good sense; if people are dumb enough to smoke where’s the harm in what he does? It is a story that sympathizes with those who have the unfortunate jobs of working for not very well liked establishments like tobacco farmers or seal clubbers or lobbyists for the booze industry. Make no mistake, this film is a comedy, not a “message movie,” and as comedies go, you won’t find a funnier, wittier one than this. But the film belongs to Eckhart, whose Nick Naylor is one of the best good/bad guys ever to launch a sneak attack on the unsuspecting public. It also gives Hollywood a proper smack-down for its part in promoting “sexy” smoking, with Rob Lowe returning to form as a morally bereft Hollywood mogul who fancies himself a Zen master. The shot of him in his kimono alone is worth the price of admission.
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