Thank You for Smoking

(2006) *** 1/2 R
92 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director: Jason Reitman. Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott.

According to Big Tobacco's golden-boy spin-meister Nick Naylor, the yuppie Nuremberg defense is this: "Everyone's got a mortgage to pay." Moral relativism is the name of the game in Thank You for Smoking, writer-director Jason Reitman's highly amusing, take-no-prisoners adaptation of Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel.

Aaron Eckhart plays Naylor, hard-working VP of the Academy of Tobacco Studies. It's a job that "requires a moral flexibility that goes beyond most people," but Nick's peers from the Alcohol and Firearms industries (Maria Bello and David Koechner) understand. Informally, they call themselves the M.O.D. Squad (for "Merchants of Death") and carry on a friendly competition of shifting death tolls.

Naylor may be a bachelor, but he's also a father to twelve-year-old Joey (Cameron Bright), the one happy result of a failed marriage. At first, Joey appears to compound Nick's amorality—the man snows kids as well as adults with cigarette propaganda—but Joey isn't a symbol for suckered American youth so much as voracious American ambition. He's an intellectually curious kid with his dad's ear for rhetoric.

Nick's heavily scrutinized mission only becomes more complicated when he must seduce the reporter (Katie Holmes) profiling him, lobby a Hollywood studio-head (an ideally cast Rob Lowe), and tiptoe around Robert Duvall's mint-julep-sipping "Captain" of industry. Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, J.K. Simmons, and William H. Macy fill out the outstanding ensemble cast.

Though Thank You for Smoking is a scathing satire, neither Buckley nor Reitman limit their potshots to one ideological side. Those on the supposed moral high ground prove to be as weak as they are self-righteous, and that Nick's young son is a chip off the old block doesn't necessarily taint him. If there's a lesson, it's that spinning your fellow Americans is the real national pastime—the greater problem is when you spin yourself.

[For Groucho's interview with Jason Reitman, click here.]

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