"Smoking Causes Coughing"
review by Diablo Joe
"Smoking Causes Coughing"
The French smoke. A lot. Gitanes. Gauloises. Think “Frenchman,” and you see a cigarette in hand or dangling from a lip. Belmondo. Gainsbourg. Depardieu. Le Pew.
They are also absurd. Definitively absurd. They celebrate absurd things. Berets. Escargot. Jerry Lewis. Le Petomane (google him).
Only from France could a film like “Smoking Causes Coughing” arise in 2023. Writer/Director Quentin Dupieux is well known to horror audiences for the 2010 film “Rubber,” which celebrated a psychokinetic killer car tire. Here, Dupieux introduces us to the members of Tobacco Force, a Might-Morphin-Power-Rangers-esque band of heroes who use their carcinogenic superpowers to battle man-sized rubbery kaiju. When news of a plan by the villainous Lézardin, Emperor of Evil, to destroy the Earth, they are ordered by their leader, Chief Didier, a goo-drooling rat puppet, to regroup to a team-bonding retreat.
If one were to go by the film’s title, one would, indeed, expect much smoking in the movie. And if one were to go by the picture’s trailer, one might expect much slimy monster battling. And if one were to go by the plot summary above, one might expect the film to center on our heroes. Only the last of these three is even reasonably accurate. In many ways, “Smoking” is an anthology film of sorts. As our disparate group grandstand, bicker, and generally do anything but work on their “group cohesion,” they tell stories that make up a considerable amount of the film’s runtime. And they are quite a varied bunch of tales indeed. Ranging from several minutes in length to mere seconds, these vignettes have fuck-all to do with the plot, and that’s part of “Smoking’s” charm.
While the film has many moments of humor, one tale concerning a young man trapped in a shredding machine and his aunt’s agita at having to explain this to the boy’s mother is absolutely genius. The deeper and deeper that Dupieux takes us into this surreal and gleefully gross rabbit hole of an episode, the better it gets. And yes, it DOES have smoking.
As stated, these have nothing to do with “Smoking Causes Coughing’s” main story thread. But then again, NOTHING does. The cast is eagerly game for whatever the film requires of them, but no one ever becomes much of a character. Or even much of a stereotype. Our grotesque rat team leader has a way with women even James Bond would envy. Lézardin, Emperor of Evil, is a bit of a family man (or maybe not). The Tobacco Force, dedicated as they might seem to their cause (they never take off their uniforms, even to sleep), are ineffectually dull heroes. But none of that matters because you get the sense it was never intended to.
Quentin Dupieux has created a bit of an anti-parody of superhero films. He grabs at bits and bobs of cultural references, from the aforementioned Power Rangers to Mutant Ninja Turtles to comic book “Just Say NO to Smoking” PSAs from the 70s. But all of these are used merely as color and shading to the ridiculousness that is “Smoking Causes Coughing.” His film is more interested in being Dada-esque than anything else, and the result, if you are willing to give yourself over to its absurdity, is humorous and refreshingly different. And very French.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Smoking Causes Coughing” 3 out of 5 imps.