Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking pulls us into the world of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a slick PR whiz who makes his living speaking on behalf of the much-maligned tobacco industry. Though Nick’s job is understandably a thankless one, he carries it out with unapologetic pride, boasting about his ability to put a positive spin on a product that kills roughly 1,000 people a day. But when an opportunistic senator, played by the always off-kilter William H. Macy, sets out on a campaign to tag all cigarette packs with poison labels, Nick is forced to kick his spin-control tactics into high gear.
Based on Christopher Buckley’s popular 1994 novel, Thank You for Smoking earns top marks for its politically incorrect premise. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t maintain the ferocity it needs to keep us along for the entire ride. Instead, Reitman aims for broad-comedy sensibilities that simply feel out of place. There’s much focus, for example, on Nick’s relationship with his young son, a subplot that feels like an unnecessary attempt to humanize the character. As for Reitman’s adapted screenplay, although it contains some effectively sharp dialogue, it doesn’t do much to update Buckley’s original story. In the dozen years since Buckley’s novel was penned, smoking prohibition has gained an unprecedented foothold in this country. Yet Reitman’s rendition still treats the topic with its Clinton-era innocence, superficially foggy about how the smoking wars have played out.
Despite the film’s flaws, there are still plenty of laughs throughout its trim 92 minutes. The best scenes involve quips between members of the M.O.D. (merchants of death) Squad, a weekly lunch group consisting of Nick and his fellow spinsters from the alcohol and gun industries. Watching this trio of flacks bicker over which of their respective industries causes society the most harm, we get a glimpse into the unflinching satire Thank You for Smoking could have been.
Originally published in Show Business Weekly, 2006