Smoking Causes Coughing (aka Fumer fait tousser) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
For those who have seen the poster and trailers, one might be forgiven if they have perceived Smoking Causes Coughing as strict parody of Power Rangers. It certainly has the elements of being a superhero satire, as spandex-wearing heroes do battle with absurd powers against rubber-suited foes who comically explode into blood and guts. So it’s perhaps worth spoiling here that this film plays like a comical nod to Super Sentai and more like a surreal Tales from the Crypt as though a young Peter Jackson directed it, if that makes any sense.
I think a better understanding of where this film comes from is to look at the filmography of its director, Quentin Dupieux. He’s made a lot of surreal and strictly tongue-in-cheek pictures, but the one that applies most directly here is Rubber, the film about a killer tire. The movie ended up being more than that as it takes strange detours, constantly questioning and subverting everything it sets up. In that same manner, Smoking Causes Coughing has a similar progression. It starts with a ludicrous idea that a team of adults harboring the power of smoking to kill their enemies and then proceeds to get even crazier from there.
The team, all having names of cigarette ingredients, is apparently having issues working together. They then get orders from their leader, a rat puppet, over a video phone to go on a team-building retreat. There’s also apparently a romance where one of the women is in love with the rat, but he always has another woman in his best when he calls. That's not bad for a creature constantly drooling green goo. Later in the film, the team will have to stop some alien warlord from destroying the planet if he can get out of dinner with his family.
The bulk of the film is reserved for telling wild tales of science fiction and horror throughout, all with a ridiculous and giddy tone. One of the stories is hilarious, more for the dressing than the story. A woman places on a goofy space helmet at a party but finds that the helmet makes her feel uncomfortable in her body and goes on a killing spree of her husband and friends. One of the stories is absurd with its premise, where a man caught in a woodchipper survives as a talking bucket of guts who tries to downplay his injuries. The superhero team tells some of these stories. Some of them are told by talking animals. Whichever way, the weird winds are blowing.
This is a highly unpredictable film in how it refuses to stick to a track or even give proper resolve. Several plotlines and arcs kinda of peter out, as with the bucket of blood story that doesn’t find much else to do once it’s nailed all the comical punchlines. There isn’t even a satisfying resolve in how a last-ditch effort to save the planet depends on a slow robot. There’s a heavy level of subversion where you really have to be more committed to the journey than the destination. For the most part, the film does a solid job of evoking some odd comfort in its strangeness. Aspects of gore and superheroism are treated as such passive normality that there’s a unique bit of ennui to how a Power Rangers ensemble would play out in a more grounded reality. The fact that the team only passively tells a kid that smoking is bad for you is pretty funny, where the biggest danger they stress is coughing.
Smoking Causes Coughing will certainly not be everybody’s cup of tea, considering how much of it is filled with blood and green rat drool. Even if you’re into all that, the freewheeling storytelling might not gel with you either. As for myself, I felt the same way with this film that I did about Rubber; it takes a decent premise for comedy and steers it around to some strange detours that are admirable, if not all that satisfying as a whole.