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SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING: Superhero Movies Can Still Be Fun

The French auteur Quentin Dupieux is perhaps most famous among general audiences for his 2010 film, Rubber. Yet Dupieux’s productions have not slowed down in the thirteen years since its release. In that time, he has released seven more films, all of which he wrote, directed, shot, and edited. Now, his eighth film in just over a decade, Smoking Causes Coughing brings Dupieux’s classic absurdist spin to the sub-genre of superhero films. To think of the stark difference between the two cinematic eras when these respective films came out is mind boggling. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was just in its infancy, with audiences barely even prepared for the first superhero team-up that would fundamentally alter the way they absorbed storytelling. As a filmmaker, Dupieux was perhaps more tuned into that shift than most, and Smoking Causes Coughing seems to be his decision on now being the time to dive headfirst into the proverbial pool and mine it for all its comedic worth. Now, Smoking Causes Coughing has come at a fascinating time in relation to superhero films. While a majority of them are still box-office powerhouses, critical, and to a much lesser extent, audience, reception has been dwindling. With multiple exposés having recently been released about the overworking and blatant exploitation of VFX workers, one can only assume, or at the very least, hope, a turning point is coming. So upon settling in for Dupieux’s latest, it’s a welcome change of pace to be immediately treated to something full of practical effects, laugh-out-loud comedy, and above all, a genuine sense of humor stemming from a comedic script. The film opens with a family road trip, but within two minutes, Dupieux reveals his heroes: the Tobacco Force. Five heroes, named after five of the main chemicals that make up cigarettes, are fighting a giant turtle; and they’re all actually fighting. Fitted in actual superhero costumes that feel nostalgically reminiscent of the Power Rangers, the giant turtle they’re up against is nothing more than somebody in a rubber suit. To one of the onlookers in the film, they find the Tobacco Force to be not all that considering “It’s just a rubber monster.” To audiences however, it serves as a charming throwback to the days where practical effects ruled the silver screen.

The practical effects go far beyond just the costumes however. From their team chief, a rat puppet who oozes goo from the mouth, to their adorable robot sidekick, Norbert, the Tobacco Force and the world of Smoking Causes Coughing is full of comedic charm that greatly sells its flat-out hysterical moments. Much of the film is made up of vignettes told around a campfire by the team, and each one is filled with unbelievable gags and plenty of gross-out, splatter comedy; John Waters feels it “surpasses all the tedium of Hollywood blockbusters.” We live in a time where big-budget, studio comedies are barely getting distributed. The few that do make it to audiences desperately feel as if they want to be classics without including a shred of sincerity at any moment. With that lacking sense of earnestness or genuine humor in mind, Dupieux’s Smoking Causes Coughing is a welcome change of pace. By the time its 80 minute runtime has passed, and you can be sure that includes a post credit scene, you’ll leave the theater in agreement that the Tobacco Force are, in fact, “the coolest avengers in the world.”

Magnet Releasing will release Smoking Causes Coughing in theaters and on demand March 31, 2023.

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