Some days it's not easy being the chief spokesman for Big Tobacco. You get rolled on to TV talkshows in the company of teenagers with cancer, angry parents and antismoking activists and are asked to defend your employers. But, if you're tobacco industry lobbyist extraordinaire Nick Naylor (Eckhart), you can turn the whole thing around and have a lynching audience eating out of your hand in minutes. Nick loves his job, is fantastic at it - and cinema audiences are going to love his hilariously amoral take on life in the cheerfully cynical 'Thank You For Smoking'.
In his spare time Nick has dinner with fellow lobbyists the MOD Squad, the self-titled Merchants of Death. Businesslike Polly (Bello) is on the Moderation Council - she represents the alcohol industry - while good ol' boy Bobby Jay (Koechner) is head of S.A.F.E.T.Y (Society for the Advancement of Firearms and Effective Training for Youth). They spend their nights drinking, swapping strategies and competing over whose product kills more people.
While busily spin doctoring on behalf of cigarette companies, battling a Birkenstock-clad overzealous Senator from Vermont (Macy), trying to avoid death-threatening kidnappers and being profiled by beautiful reporter Heather Holloway (Holmes), Nick is also trying to be a positive role model for his 12-year-old son, Joey (Bright). He helps Joey to finish a school assignment (Joey: "Dad, why is the American government the best government?"/Nick: "Because of our endless appeals system."); teaches him to argue - "If you argue correctly, you're never wrong." - and even turns up for bring-your-father day at school. Although the teacher isn't so impressed with Nick exhortations to the class: "Think for yourselves! Challenge authority! Instead of acting like sheep when it comes to cigarettes, maybe you should find out for yourself."
The very talented Jason Reitman, son of Ivan 'Ghostbusters' Reitman, makes his feature-length directing and scriptwriting debut with this smart, stylish and funny satire. Adapted from Christopher Buckley's popular novel of the same name, the dialogue is sharp and snappy (Nick: "Michael Jordan plays ball. Charles Manson kills people. I talk.") and Reitman has a very capable cast, well able to make the most of those throwaway lines. Aaron Eckhart is especially superb as the ever-smiling, attractive and terribly plausible corporate villain. 'Thank You For Smoking' is truly his film but Reitman has chosen well across the board - from the julep-sipping Big Tobacco General (Duvall) to one-time cigarette poster icon (Elliott) and especially Asian-fixated Hollywood superagent (Lowe) - with one exception; the too-winsome and not-dangerous-enough Katie Holmes.
While the film narrowly avoids drowning under an over-abundance of subplots and the climactic scene does fall a little flat, there's still more than enough to enjoy - and lines that you'll always remember - in 'Thank You For Smoking'. If this is the kind of intelligent and quirky filmmaking that Reitman can do with a low budget (under $8m) and limited experience, he's got an interesting future ahead of him.