There’s something exhilarating about watching a clever liar in full, resplendent flight. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhardt) has what he cheerfully describes as a "challenging" job: he represents the interests of the tobacco industry in a world that generally considers the product reprehensible. At the beginning of "Thank You For Smoking," Nick is getting ready to defend himself on the Joan Lunden talk show, in the company of anti-smoking do-gooders and a cancer-stricken, bald teenaged boy.
Did I say defend himself? No, Nick attacks. He asks the audience what the tobacco business would possibly gain from the death of the young man. If anything, it would mean the loss of a customer. Instead, it’s the professional anti-smoking vigilantes who want the boy to die, because that makes their contributions go up. "This is nothing less," Nick says, voice rising, "than trafficking in human misery."
It only takes a few fancy footsteps like this and the studio audience is cheering, the boy gives Nick a high five, and the erstwhile do-gooder is reduced to the status of a weasel. This is a very funny sequence, the first of many in this very funny movie. The humor largely depends on the gratification we feel in seeing a big, fat liar practice his art. "The Music Man" hit many of the same satisfying notes.
Granted, there’s lot more sex and bad language in "Thank You For Smoking" than there was in that 1962 film about a con man peddling imaginary musical instruments. The movie is based on the 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley, and in many respects improves on it. The role of Nick’s son Joey (Cameron Bright) has been enhanced, which provides an emotional thread to link the segments of the story. And some bits that were terrific in the book are even better in full color on the screen.
Take the Hollywood sequence, for example. Nick and Joey pay a visit to a big Hollywood agent, Jeff (Rob Lowe), to discuss getting more actors to smoke onscreen. First they wait in the...
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