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Thank You for Smoking

Spin Doctors

Remember when people used to smoke in airplanes? Remember lighting up in the movie theater or after dinner? How about the hospital? If the tobacco industry had its way, firing up a cigarette in these public venues wouldn't be a remnant of the past. You'd be able to enjoy a long, cool cancer stick anytime your little American heart desired. But, alas, times have changed, and smoking just ain't what it used to be. Much to the chagrin of spin master Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the protagonist of Thank You for Smoking, one of the sharpest and funniest satires to come out in recent memory.

Naylor could make a child murdering serial killer somehow look good. Thankfully, as the tobacco industry's secret weapon, he only needs to sell the country on cigarettes. And he is very good at what he does. He lives and breathes spin. He teaches his young son Joey (Cameron Bright) about the variability of truth and tells a bunch of middle-schoolers to essentially question authority and doubt everything they've ever been told (before being cut-off and ushered out by their disgruntled teacher). And every week he meets with the M.O.D. (ministers of death) Squad -- filling out the threesome are Polly Bailey (Maria Bello) representing alcohol and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner) representing fire and arms -- for lunch at their steakhouse of choice where each dish about the chills and thrills of spinning for a client whom a large percent of the country vehemently hates.

But Naylor is pretty much unfazed. It's as if he thrives on antagonism. His mission to spread the word leads him to California where he tries to get big-time movie producer/idea man Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe who is excellent here) to get smoking back into the movies, and goes to have a little chat with the dying Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott). His impressionable son accompanies him on the trip and Naylor is forced to face how his actions and motivations could affect his son. Add a sweet, young journalist (Katie Holmes), a back-stabbing boss (J.K. Simmons) and an ambitious, liberal, anti-tobacco Senator (William H. Macy) into the mix and you have yourselves a movie.

Directed and adapted to the screen by Jason Reitman and based on the novel by author Christopher Buckley, Thank You for Smoking is both engaging and just plain funny. The direction is tight with filmic frills reminiscent of Fight Club and The Royal Tenenbaums, and the writing possesses an acerbic wit. Every actor brings forth a stellar performance; special kudos goes to Adam Brody as Jack, Jeff Megall's fast-talking assistant who does so much with so little a role.

While Thank You for Smoking does well to entertain, it has a serious underlying critique about the nature of truth. If the government has its wizards of spin, the media is a funnel for spin, products are spun a dozen times over, and all advertising is the stuff of spin, then who can you trust? How do you make your decisions? How can you judge between what's right and what is wrong? In short: what is the truth? As Naylor would urge you to do -- question everything.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars