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Smoking Causes Coughing – Film Review

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If we had known that Smoking Causes Coughing was a Quentin Dupieux movie before watching it, we would have been less confused. This is the writer and director who has given us Rubber, a film about a killer tyre, and Mandibles, a movie about a giant fly that gets exploited for cash. Smoking Causes Coughing was always going to be mad as a bag of spanners.

You see, we expected Smoking Causes Coughing, at least from the trailer and screenshots, to be a warm, nostalgic parody of Power Rangers. We expected fights in quarries. We expected tight lycra and dudes in rubber suits, looking vaguely like space-turtles. 

Which, as it happens, is precisely what happens in the first fifteen minutes of Smoking Causes Coughing. Quentin Dupieux lets you get cozy, and delivers precisely what you expect: a space-turtle, a quarry, and five adults pretending to be teenagers in ultra-tight superhero suits. This is the Tobacco Force, named after the component parts of a cigarette – Nicotine, Menthol, Mercury, Ammonia and Benzene. They use these elements to fast-track the effects of smoking in their opponents, giving them cancer. Okay, maybe it’s not completely predictable. 

If Smoking Causes Coughing was ever on the rails, it’s after this fight that things go off them. Because the Tobacco Force are knackered, they’re quibbling over the smallest things, and they clearly need a vacation. So, their boss, Chef Didier (voiced by Alain Chabat), who looks uncannily like Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, gives them precisely that. They’re driven to a secluded location where they can rest their legs and helmets. It’s time to wind down. 

There are no more Power Ranger fights. Because we’ve taken a left-turn from action parody into a – drum roll – horror anthology. Quentin Dupieux does what Quentin Dupieux is wont to do, and pulls the rug from our feet completely. We could have guessed a number of different genres, but we would never have suspected that a horror anthology would be where we’d end up. 

Because the Tobacco Force are bored, and they’re gathering round campfires in the attempt to scare each other. Benzene (Gilles Lelouche) has heard a truly troubling horror story and wants to share the love with the rest of the team. So, we get to see it in all of its glory: a tale of two vacationing couples in an Airbnb, with one of them finding a sensory deprivation helmet that is designed to enhance mental prowess. When she wears it, the other guests are blocked out. She can truly think. But she also stops seeing her partner and the other couple as equals, and the horror starts ramping up. 

As with all of the Tales of the Crypt in Smoking Causes Coughing, this story isn’t scary, per se. It’s more a vehicle for Quentin Dupieux to test the boundaries of his imagination, scrabbling around in the subconscious for images that will loiter for weeks. You get the sense that these are stories he would have loved to expand into Rubber-sized movies, but they just didn’t stretch that far. Instead, they become shorts in a horror anthology, one that just happens to be hosted by Power Rangers. 

We get more of these campfire tales, but we’ll keep the rest under wraps. Part of the joy of Smoking Causes Coughing is watching the movie contrive to find a home for them. One of the best comes from something that really shouldn’t be capable of even talking. And the tales, while skirting on the familiar – they’re not too far away from a Twilight Zone episode – have a habit of surging into willfully odd directions within their last act. 

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, Smoking Causes Coughing is a disjointed experience. It’s part of the point: there’s deliberately no thread between the stories, because aimlessness is a running theme. The Tobacco Force don’t know what to do with themselves in a social situation. Every last one of them is awkward in each other’s company, and that comes across in the stories they tell. These stories are too long or inappropriate for the audience, and just shows that these Poundland Power Rangers don’t know each other – not really. 

And while it has a twisted kind of logic, and there are some uproarious jokes in here (watching them all trying to sleep with their helmets on is a highlight) it doesn’t always lend itself to a satisfying movie-watching experience. A sudden threat towards the end feels more like the pratfalling of a Chuckle Brothers episode than a satire, and the ending fizzles like a cigarette butt stumped into an ashtray. By the end, we realised we were more invested in the tales that were being told than the resolution to the vacation. We’d managed to lose our connection with the team. 

But what Quentin Dupieux has achieved shouldn’t be underestimated. Smoking Causes Coughing is a comedy that’s got the gumption to handbrake-turn into horror. It doesn’t blend them together like a Shaun of the Dead: it says sod it and heads off in another direction completely. You wonder whether the movie can hold together with such a sudden change in direction, and it does creak and groan with the pressure. But it reaches its destination in one piece, and with some quotable moments to boot. 

If you come to Smoking Causes Coughing expecting a Power Rangers parody, then good. You’ll enjoy the rug-pulls all the more.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Dares to switch up its genres
  • Some hilarious moments
  • Memorable horror stories
Cons:
  • Barely holds together as a coherent movie
  • Ending didn’t work for us
  • Would have taken more of the horror stories
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 16mins | 2023
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Dares to switch up its genres</li> <li>Some hilarious moments</li> <li>Memorable horror stories</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Barely holds together as a coherent movie</li> <li>Ending didn’t work for us</li> <li>Would have taken more of the horror stories</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 16mins | 2023 </ul>Smoking Causes Coughing - Film Review
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