Judging just by the subject matter or even the very funny trailer for Thank You for Smoking, it looks like yet another politically correct box-office invective, this time taking aim at corporations, lobbyists, and the tobacco industry. But a visit to the theater with no other information at hand might lead to some surprises.
The only politician who figures prominently in the plot is a self-righteous, hypocritical doof-but Sen. Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) is a Birkenstock-wearing, bleeding-heart liberal from Vermont. Then there's crusading Washington journalist Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes). "Surely, she must be the moral center of this story," you think to yourself-until the film all but asks the audience to let out a cheer when her hypocrisy is exposed and she receives her just deserts.
Some of the names attached to Thank You for Smoking explain the surprises. The movie is directed by newcomer Jason Reitman (son of Ivan, the prolific director and a vocal proponent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's political career) and based on a novel written by Christopher Buckley (son of William F., the . . . well, you know).
While Thank You for Smoking doesn't quite qualify as a conservative film, it's a rare political satire that is consummately self-aware and asks the audience to think for itself. The philosophical content here is so appealing, in fact, that it's a shame that the film must be recommended with such a strong caveat. The R-rating is for language and some sexual content, and frequent profanity mars the deliciously clever dialogue. Two sex scenes also go too far in selling a basic plot point.
At the story's center is tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), who defends his industry against the publicity-hungry advances of Sen. Finisterre, who'd like to see a skull and crossbones splashed across every package of cigarettes. The tightly scripted story is populated with priceless characters and memorable situations with aging tobacco baron Doak "The Captain" Boykin (Robert Duvall) and Hollywood super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe). Lobbyists and the tobacco industry are justly lampooned, but when the outstanding Mr. Eckhart makes his final defense before Sen. Finisterre's subcommittee, it's almost hard to fathom that such a compelling argument against government interventionism has found its way into multiplexes.