2006-04-28 / Columnists


'Thank You For Smoking' - Spin Doctor Of Death
By Robert Snyder

If the Grim Reaper were to appear as a D.C. lobbyist, he would probably look like Nick Naylor, who is played to perfection by Aaron Eckhart in "Thank You for Smoking."

In fact, as the ultimate spin doctor for Big Tobacco, Naylor is so effective that he makes a convincing argument for placing skull-and- bones labels on cheddar cheese. This is in response to a Congressional proposal by Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) to put the poison disclaimers on packs of cigarettes, because smoking kills 1,200 American daily.

Naylor's point is that high cholesterol, which causes heart disease, is the number one killer in the country. Cheddar cheese increases cholesterol in the blood stream. Vermont is a major provider of cheddar cheese. Therefore, Senator Finistirre is also a merchant of death. As Nick explains to his wide-eyed 12-year-old son, Joey (Cameron Bright), "If you argue better, you're never wrong."

Naylor always argues better. He is simply unstoppable. After being abducted and almost killed with multiple nicotine patches, he attains near-sainthood with tobacco addicts, when a physician says that he would have died if he wasn't a seasoned smoker. In other words, cigarettes saved his life.

While the cast is superb (particularly Sam Elliott as the Marlboro Man, dying of cancer), the weak link is Katie Holmes, as a sultry newspaper reporter out to seduce secrets from suddenly nave Nick. She's not sexy and hardly a match for Naylor, but still torpedoes him.

Based on the 1994 Christopher Buckley novel, "Thank You for Smoking" is a hit, holding its own on the top 10 box office list. However, Eckhart's effervescence and first-time writer/ director Jason Reitman's peppy execution of deeply depressing subject matter almost undermines what should be an anti-tobacco message.

Still, "Thank You for Smoking" is an entertaining satire. That in itself makes it upsetting.

Will it keep tobacco addicts from smoking?

Let's just say that the cheese industry has nothing to worry about either.

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