Considering the easy targets chosen here — “Big Tobacco,” lobbyists, politicians, and the media — Thank You For Smoking is a rather mild and good-natured satire that rarely approaches scathing social criticism. It’s certainly softer around the edges than Farenheit 9/11 and even This Is Spinal Tap, but while the movie could have been more biting and thought-provoking, it manages to get its point across (I think?) while being breezily entertaining at the same time.
I thought the humor was clever, but not laugh-out-loud funny (although plenty of others in the theater seemed to disagree.) Aaron Eckhart chews up the screen as Nick Naylor, a spokesman for the absurd Institute of Tobacco Studies, and he becomes the movie’s surprisingly sympathetic anti-hero. But other than David Koechner, who plays an amiable gun lobbyist, the rest of the characters are rather two-dimensional, undeveloped caricatures – which, for a satire, is not necessarily a problem. William H. Macy, though, is a bit too easy to hate as the Vermont senator on an anti-smoking crusade. And Rob Lowe – man, he’s looking kind of scary these days…
Amazingly, nobody actually lights up and smokes a cigarette on screen during this entire movie. And while it attempts to skewer everyone involved, in the end you will find yourself routing for the Merchants of Death and their quasi-libertarian stance extolling “freedom of choice” over government regulation; when some of the audience clapped at the end of the movie, I assume that’s what they were applauding.
So hopefully, in addition to being an enjoyable farce, Thank You For Smoking might make people think twice the next time politicians start talking about protecting “the children” from cigarettes, fast food, video games, and… um… Hollywood movies.