Review by Sean Boelman
French absurdist filmmaker Quentin Dupieux is one of the most idiosyncratic filmmakers working today, with his films being the very definition of “love it or hate it.” His latest venture, Smoking Causes Coughing, is as short and snappy as always, taking full advantage of its wacky, creative concept.
The film follows a band of five superheroes who, after declining success owing to a loss of group cohesion, is sent on a mandatory retreat to encourage them to get back in their rhythm. It’s both a perfect throwback and a film that feels incredibly timely — a balance that many filmmakers attempt, but few are able to pull off.
The most obvious point of comparison for the film is like a more demented, adult version of Power Rangers. It’s the type of bizarre, creative comedy that only the mind of Quentin Dupieux could dream up. However, the level of detail he puts into this one is extraordinary, and every single one of the actors — several of which are French A-listers — are fully committed to the bit.
Since this film is paying homage to a genre not exactly known for its technical prowess, its execution is understandably goofy-looking. However, Dupieux absolutely nails the recreation of this style he is going for, with impressively campy creature design and some pretty amazing use of puppetry.
However, at a certain point, the film begins to shift into an anthology structure. On their retreat, the central characters bond by sharing stories around a campfire. Of course, being that this is a film by Dupieux — the stories are random, bizarre, and hilarious — but they all add up to the film’s impressive and thoughtful environmentalist message.
Dupieux has a very particular style of absurd humor, and it’s on full display here. However, Smoking Causes Coughing is more broadly funny than some of the filmmaker’s other films, likely owing to its many references to pop culture. It’s also his goriest film since Rubber, but as one would expect, the exaggerated violence is used to hilarious effect.
The character development in the film is a bit more shallow than most Dupieux films, but then again, that seems to be the point. The characters are archetypes used to teach a message — much in the way that the superheroes in tokusatsu franchises were archetypes that taught children important values like honesty, courage, and fairness.
Smoking Causes Coughing is another amazing film in Dupieux’s library, and has the potential to be a breakout hit on the level of Rubber. It’s hilarious, insightful, and delightfully twisted in the way that the filmmaker’s fans have come to expect.
Smoking Causes Coughing hits theaters and VOD on March 31.