Smoking Causes Coughing review: absurdist superhero comedy

Share this Article:

Absurdist comedy Smoking Causes Coughing is the latest from director Quentin Dupieux – here’s our review of the unconventional film.

You’d be forgiven for going into this expecting a cheap and cheerful parody of the over-saturated superhero genre, with some jabs at big corporate industries like Tobacco. It certainly starts promisingly enough. In an empty quarry, the Tobacco Force battle a rubber suited monster named Tortusse who, unsurprisingly, looks like a giant tortoise.

Each of the members are named after different chemicals typically found in Tobacco e.g. Benzene, Nicotine, Mercury, Methanol and Ammonia. Once their martial arts moves have proven fruitless, they use their combined super power to give Tortusse what can best be described as ‘explosive cancer’. We’re ten minutes in and all the key elements, campy outfits, comedy gore and supreme silliness have been established. Unfortunately, audience members who have been drawn in by the sheer ridiculousness of the premise may well leave feeling disappointed.

Smoking Causes Coughing looks like it’s been made for 50p and a bag of chips, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The low production value consciously evokes memories of Power Rangers, 1980s Doctor Who and any number of kids’ TV shows from our childhoods. However, the producers of Smoking Causes Coughing seem to have made a virtue of not trying.

When the team arrives at their retreat, they settle in and quickly get to telling scary stories. From this point on, we’re treated to a meandering series of shaggy dog tales. This feels like a feature film that should have been a sketch show. There are some set ups that sound promising the ugly puppet rat that human women find incredibly erotic, the woman that lives in the fridge, and the talking barracuda. All of these in the hands of another filmmaker might have really landed. As it stands, each joke is extended long past the point it might have been funny, and then is quickly discarded when the characters get bored. The end result is a film that makes Power Rangers look like Avengers: Endgame.

The director, Quentin Dupieux, is known for his unconventional output. Those familiar with his previous films Rubber and Deerskin might be prepared for the tonal shifts that lurch between lighthearted comedy and indiscriminate gore. But unconventionality is not a virtue in its own right.

Dupieux may be better known by his alter-ego, Mr Oizo, under which he released a handful of electronic dance hits in the late 90s. Along with his puppet, Flat Eric, Mr Oizo featured in a marketing campaign for Levis. It’s the same humour, designed for a oneminute ad slot, that we see here stretched over 77 minutes.

It’s great when filmmakers take risks; anyone familiar with the output of Lord and Miller, Charlie Kaufman or Michele Gondry will know that feeling of having to go along with the absurdity for a while before it makes sense. But after a while, there’s a sinking feeling when viewers realise there’s not going to be any narrative twist that puts a spin on things.

There’s silliness, and that’s all you’re getting. Now that’s fine if you find the jokes actually funny, or if the characters were likeable we might be able to forgive a multitude of sins. As it stands, there’s a rich vein of careless contempt for the characters and the world they inhabit. Humour is such a personal attribute, and clearly there are a range of opinions available on this film. But if you are not a fan of absurdist French comedy, this may not be the one for you.

Smoking Causes Coughing is in cinemas now.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this