Smoking Causes Coughing (2022)

Smoking Causes Coughing (2022)

A refreshingly absurdist take on superhero movies, courtesy of a singular cinematic mind



Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Adèle Exarchopoulos, Alain Chabat, Anaïs Demoustier
77 min


Unlike nearly every other superhero story out there, you’ll never be able to predict what will happen next to the Tobacco Force.

What it's about

A gang of superheroes are sent on a team-building retreat, where they swap surreal scary stories.

The take

At 80 minutes, Smoking Causes Coughing is another slice of perfectly paced absurdist fun from Quentin Dupieux, the zany mind behind Rubber (in which a car tire turns serial killer) and Deerskin, the tale of a motorcycle jacket that wants to rule the world. This time around, the protagonists aren’t inanimate objects: they’re Tobacco Force, a Power Rangers-style band of lightly idiotic superheroes who harness the toxic power of cigarettes to defeat Earth’s enemies, and are each named after one of their harmful components (Benzene, Nicotine, Mercury, Ammonia, and Methanol). They’re led by Chief Didier, a rat who inexplicably dribbles green goo — and, even more inexplicably, casts an intense erotic spell over Tobacco Force’s female members.

Smoking Causes Coughing leans deliriously, hilariously far into its absurdist premise. Citing a lack of “group cohesion,” Chief Didier sends the Force to the woods on a team-building retreat. While they swap “scary” stories over a campfire, however, a reptilian galactic supervillain plots to put Earth “out of its misery” because it’s a “sick planet” (can’t really argue with that). Full of insane plot twists and without a tired trope in sight, Smoking Causes Coughing never approaches the realm of predictability — no small achievement in this era of superhero fatigue.

What stands out

Smoking Causes Coughing digresses into several surreal vignettes as Tobacco Force (plus a little girl who joins them at their campfire) swap “spooky” stories. While they’re certainly unsettling, the tone of these stories is really one of black comedy, allowing us to peer a little further into Dupieux’s wild imagination: in one, for example, Adèle Exarchopoulos plays a woman who physically can’t stop vlogging her own murder by a serial killer. The exception here is the little girl’s contribution — a brief tale about a fish that witnesses toxic chemicals being dumped into the lake it lives in — which is the single sincere note in a movie that otherwise plays as one giant throwaway gag. That’s not a criticism, by the way: it’s deeply refreshing, how contented Smoking Causes Coughing is with being nothing more than a bit of silly fun done well.

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