Quentin Dupieux’s comedy Smoking Causes Coughing is pitched as a team-building retreat for a Power-Rangers-esque group; and while that is the primary driving story, it plays more like a fever dream anthology where Dupieux shoved in a few short films he’s been ruminating on. This results in a delightfully absurd stoner jam that caused our theater to continually cackle with glee throughout the runtime, and my favorite film by him since Rubber.
Our story focuses on a group of 5 “avengers” dressed in matching spandex who call themselves Tobacco Force. They spend their days vanquishing men-in-foam creatures with hand to hand combat and the carcinogenic properties of cigarettes, led with the direction of a goo dripping rat who, in the universe of this movie, oozes not just green slime, but sex appeal. Going over much more would ruin some delightful surprises that are best left unspoiled, as many laughs are generated from unexpected shock. The overall plot is of little importance anyway.
Dupieux’s absurdist humor likely isn’t for everyone, but by structuring the movie more like an anthology and limiting each bit in his film to ten or so minutes, nothing outstays its welcome and the pace gives the viewer ample opportunity to find at least one segment that will gel. For me, an avid fan of his first Fantastic Fest film Rubber, the whole thing played. There’s a tightness to the comedy here that in some of his films feels meandering. The structure adds to add, but the pace is blistering for a comedy — there’s no room for boredom even if the jokes don’t land. Some of his other efforts, such as Wrong and Wrong Cops, were enjoyable but lacked consistency.
The cast is huge and all lean into the comedy with delightful commitment. There’s appearances from a few French names that cinephiles might recognize, such as Adèle Exarchopoulos from Blue Is The Warmest Color, but everyone blends into the preposterous world created.
If the superhero genre has grown stale and 90’s television throwbacks are making a return, Dupieux’s Smoking Causes Coughing feels fresh in those genres, even if Dupieux himself doesn’t reinvent his own formula. His comedy works for me, and I loved witnessing a tight execution of it.