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‘Smoking’ satisfaction

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Thank You for Smoking is both the smartest and funniest movie to come out so far this year. The film focuses on the victories and trials of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the Vice President for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. The ATS is a lobbying group run by Big Tobacco, and Naylor is the self-described "Colonel Sanders of Nicotine," a man with a "bachelors in kicking ass and taking names" who can talk his way around any argument and charm his way out of any sticky situation. "You know that guy who always gets all the girls? I'm him – on crack," quips Naylor in a voiceover towards the beginning of the movie.

Naylor's two best friends are Polly Baily (Maria Bello) and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), respective head lobbyists for the alcohol and gun industries. Together they call themselves the MOD squad – Merchants of Death. The three have lunch together every week to compare who's killing more people and who's having the worse time convincing the public that their product isn't harmful.

And then there's Naylor's 12-year-old son, Joey (Cameron Bright), who gives the least annoying child acting performance of this century. A student at the excellently named St. Euthanasius, the audience first meets Joey as Naylor strides into his classroom to speak for career day. Joey looks up and plaintively whispers the universal child's plea to his father: "Please don't ruin my childhood."

What makes Thank You for Smoking so great, however, is that despite Naylor's cockiness, and the fact that he's pedaling one of the most universally hated products of today's society – cigarettes you just can't help but like the guy. Part of this is that Eckhart looks like he belongs in a comic book – the ultimate All-American Man, from his blond hair and piercing blue eyes to his almost-comically square jaw. But part of it is the easy way that Eckhart seems to live in that body, the self-assuredness he carries, and the fact that you kind of want to hang out and drink a beer with the guy.

As Naylor explains to Joey at one point, being a lobbyist "requires a moral flexibility that goes beyond most people." But Naylor, despite his "flexible" morals, is obviously a good guy, and the audience is shown this in his interactions with his son more than anything else. It's clear that Naylor just loves what he does; the challenge of convincing people to do something that will kill them is an obvious intellectual turn-on for the guy. Among advice he dispenses to his son through the movie is the classic "That's the beauty of argument; if you argue correctly you're never wrong."

The villain is, of course, a Birkenstock wearing senator from Vermont (William H. Macy), who absolutely nails his role as Politically Correct Liberal Guy. Other outstanding supporting characters are the groveling Hollywood assistant played by Adam Brody, his Asia-obsessed star maker boss played by Rob Lowe, and J.K. Simmons as Naylor's boss BR, whose morals are more questionable than they are flexible.

The only mishap in an otherwise perfectly cast movie, in fact, is Katie Holmes (in her last appearance before becoming Tom Cruise's zombie bride). The cuteness that works so well for her most of the time just doesn't fit the hard-boiled journalist/seductress character that she's supposed to be playing.

Even with this one flaw,  manages to keep the audience both laughing and thinking the entire time. So if you like your movies the way you like your women – funny and smart – don't miss this one.