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Smoking Causes Coughing (2022) Spoiler-Free Review

This review is hard to write, because everything about this movie sounds cool; but I think that speaks to why it’s ultimately such a tragedy onscreen. Debuting at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this absurdist sci-fi from French director Quentin Dupieux had so much promise. It’s centered around the Tobacco Force, a Power Rangers-esque team of superheroes who possess the powers of cigarettes, able to give their enemies cancer and make them explode. When their team morale starts to dwindle, the Tobacco Force is sent on a team-building retreat, until a supervillain threatens to destroy the world. Great premise, right? But what should have been a ridiculously fun ride turned out to be so boring, which is one of the worst things a movie can be. The longer I sat there, waiting on the high-octane hilarity promised by the trailer, the more certain I was that this film is a dud.

The writing is one area where I think this movie really falls short. Instead of leaning into the great material he set up, Dupieux’s script is prone to very long detours. There are moments where members of the Tobacco Force tell a story completely unrelated to the themes/interests/plot of the film. These anecdotes are around 30 minutes each, which is a problem in an 80-minute movie. Present action is completely lost here, and all tension leaves the screen, making us to wonder why in the world we’re still watching. While the characters and their relationship dynamics are set up well, the dots are never connected in a way that feels like we’re watching a story unfold. There’s a love triangle between two heroes and their giant space rat boss, but that’s never delved into despite how fun it would be to do so. One would think Dupieux simply ran out of time while writing this script. It’s also worth noting that for a movie banking so much on ridiculous comedy, it’s not that funny. I snickered a few times, but I wasn’t wheezing like the trailer made me hope for. The cast did a wonderful job with their performances, giving some awesome line deliveries which inserted what little humor there is, and the situational comedy was clever in certain moments, but overall I think the movie fell flat in that department, which is a huge loss considering it’s a comedy. To add insult to injury, I wasn’t a fan of the visuals.

Don’t be confused: I appreciated how cheap the practical effects look in this movie. It was the perfect approach for a film that’s clearly not taking itself seriously, and is pretty fun to watch. It’s reminiscent of your favorite B-movie in the best way. What I have issues with are the cinematographic choices. The camerawork is uninspired, almost sterile in its stillness, totally not matching the energetic mood the script hoped to achieve. I think switching to handheld in a few moments would have made a big difference, or being a bit more creative with the angles used. The same can be said for the lighting. Based on how reliant the movie is on practical and natural light sources, budget constraints were likely a problem. I get it, but at the same time certain scenes felt very flat and rigid. The colors are very desaturated, almost washed out. This color grading could’ve been fixed in post-production, but wasn’t, and is yet another choice that takes away from the zany vitality this movie desperately needs. There’s a moment when the Tobacco Force makes an enormous turtle monster explode that’s really fun, but I think that’s mainly due to the editing and practical effects, not the cinematography.

Again, I think the real shame about this movie is the sheer amount of potential it had. I’m not saying it was ever in a position to be an Oscar contender, but I do think it could have been a fun deconstruction of the superhero genre film. I wish I could tell you to look for this in theaters near you, but honestly, you should watch the new Dungeons & Dragons movie instead (I literally can’t believe I’m saying that.) If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog in this way including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations and access to free giveaways!


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