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Release Date: 03/31/23 [In Cinemas / VOD]
Genre: Comedy. Horror. SciFi.

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

"A group of vigilantes called the "tobacco-forces" is falling apart. To rebuild team spirit, their leader suggests that they meet for a week-long retreat, before returning to save the world." 


When it comes to surreal humor, Quentin Dupieux is king. It’s not because he has such an affinity for writing strange characters and subplots (although it helps). Instead, it’s because he accepts how little the world makes sense. Now, most will probably recognize Dupieux’s name from the film Rubber, his bizarre English-language debut from 2010 about a tire that kills people. In that film’s opening scene, a sheriff notably looks directly into the camera and tells the audience that cinema and life are parallel because in both everything happens for “no reason.” An admittedly existential idea, it’s one that has been present in every single one of Dupieux’s films since. His latest film, Smoking Causes Coughing, is no exception; however, it is so timely and so unapologetic in its embrace of the world’s chaos that it could just be his best to date.


While officially described as a comedy anthology film, above everything else, it is an absolute parody of the superhero genre. It follows a team of five heroes who dress up as discount Power Rangers, take orders from a talking rat like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and are known as the "Tobacco Force". After successfully completing a mission, their boss sends them on a retreat to rest so they can prepare to fight their arch-nemesis. There they wait for their next assignment and share several stories, most of which act as fables about the current state of the world and society. 


The film is just as random as it sounds. And that’s part of its charm. You will never be able to predict what happens next, but it never stops being enjoyable or funny. There’s one recurring joke in the film where one team member keeps trying to tell a ghost story. The bit begins when the gang is seated at a nighttime campfiire. At first, he gets interrupted by strangers passing by in the woods. Later on, he gets interrupted by a talking fish the group is trying to cook for lunch. 


One of the funnier things Dupieux does here is slowly reveal how unremarkable each of the heroes is. When we first meet them, they have just come together to defeat a villainous turtle. Going into the retreat, they feel like a family. As time goes on, through various interactions he makes it a point to show the audience that none of them really care about each other. In fact, it begins to feel more like they are only still together out of obligation rather than personal desire to do good. Naming them each after poisonous chemicals and elements such Benzene, Ammonia, and Mercury, Dupieux isn’t just telling us how toxic they all are, but it also feels like he’s projecting his own fatigue and frustration with modern day superheroes too.


The only con about the film is its climax, or lack thereof. In the third act, our heroes are presented with a problem. Without giving too much away, it’s dealt with almost too quickly and conveniently. And with a runtime of 80 minutes, it feels unnecessarily rushed. While it would have been nice to spend a little more time with these characters or see a few more funny stories, Dupieux knows that he’s already gotten his point across. That is the fact that we’re all doomed. 

Smart, funny, and completely cognizant of how useless the ones we trust to save us truly are, Smoking Causes Coughing is a superpowered satire sure to leave you either stupefied or satisfied. Regardless, you’ll still be gasping for air.

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