Monday, October 09, 2006

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking is a solid Hollywood movie with only one significant flaw.

I'm not sure if the intention of writer/director Jason Reitman was satirical, but if it was, he failed.

There's a decent chance the novel, Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley, makes an interesting comment on the culture of spin. There's little here to suggest that anyone involved with either intended to make a specific satire of the tobacco industry specifically. I think those hoping for that from either will be woefully disappointed, although, in the case of the novel, I confess to speculation.

The movie itself is one of those basic Hollywood formula of a man somewhat estranged from his son who manages to redeem himself as a person and a father. If I spoiled it for you, I'm sorry. It's a formula movie. It's tough to note which of the incredibly familiar formulas a movie is structured into without giving away some of the basics.

As it happens, the joy of this movie, for better or worse, is not in the plot surprises, but merely in watching a group of very talented actors doing what they do best.

This is why it's no trifling issue that Katie Holmes is, once again, horribly miscast in a key role.

After a long dialogue in which the character of Heather Holloway is described as a buxom blue-eyed vixen, we are shown the decidedly hazel-eyed Holmes in what might be the least breast friendly man's button-up shirt in the history of cinema.

Katie Holmes is obviously an attractive woman. I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. And I don't think she's a bad actress. I think she was terrific in The Gift and Pieces of April. She also stood out on the handful of Dawson's Creek I saw, moreso than Michelle Williams, who has since proven to be a much stronger actress than Ms. Holmes.

The problem isn't that she's bad, merely that she's limited. That's ok. She is - or, at least, was prior to signing on for a lifetime of "Kool-Aid Katie" jokes - moving up the ladder to being a big Hollywood actor and big Hollywood actors don't need to be Great Actors, they just need to have a lot of charisma and play their type well. She certainly qualifies.

That leaves in question why directors for big Hollywood movies, who should understand that principle, seem hellbent on casting her against type for the kinds of minor roles that are almost specifically designed for type casting.

Here she's supposed to be a reporter who is driven to advance her career by sleeping with the subjects of her writing in order to get the kinds of intimate off-the-record comments that make for a big story. The trouble is, much like in Batman Begins, there just nothing about her that feels like a driven career woman, although she may be in real life.

She also is not the type that works as a calculated seductress. Not that men don't want to sleep with her. Of course they do. But she has a youthful innocence that makes a man want to seduce her. Mind you, the story of a reporter who craftily uses her innocent good looks to seduce men by subtely drawing them in to seduce her could be a very good story. It is not, however, the movie they were making here, nor one they had time or space to prepare for... nor is it the one they seem to be attempting.

Seriously, the reason to watch this is to see Aaron Eckhart do what he does best. To see how he clicks with an otherwise terrific supporting cast featuring J.K. Simmons, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, William H. Macy, Rob Lowe, David Koechner and Maria Bello. And, if you go in it for that, you'll be very pleased and amused.

If you go in looking for effective satire or clever plot machinations, however, I'd guess you'll be disappointed.

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