The acquired taste that is French satirist and genre-spoofer Quentin Dupieux unleashes the unlikeliest superhero “avengers” of them all in “Smoking Causes Coughing,” a film that sends up comic book movies and society’s efforts to regulate or socially normalize “safety.”
Like his earlier films “Rubber,” “Mandibles” and “Incroyable mais vrai (Incredible but True),” it’s basically a one-joke comedy, and is thus quite brief. It was also, for me, basically a single laugh romp that loses the plot along with the punchline.
Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Oulaya Amamra and Vincent Lacoste play The Tobacco Team, an elite unit in Power Rangers (with tidy whiteys) togs sent to battle monsters and supervillains by Chief Didier, a ratty rat puppet who passes on instructions via CRT TV in their custom self-driving van.
A little boy, the son of a chain smoker, catches them in action in an abandoned quarry as they concentrate their powers — shooting smoke at a foe, which would cause cancer if the villain didn’t explode in a shower of entrails first — on Tortusse, a dino-turtle monster (dude in a rubber suit).
They are named for the poisonous gases contained in cigarettes — Ammoniaque, Nicotine, Benzene, Mercury and (oddly) Methanol, which I think was meant to be Methane.
One has a crush on their womanizing rat-puppet Chief. One has a family. Another is younger and lonely. Because even superheroes have “issues.”
The kid bystander and his Gitane-sucking dad are covered in Tortusse guts after that first big fight, as are the “invincible” Tobacco Team. They, at least, can get hosed off by their cute Norbett 500 robot. They pose for selfies with the kid and they’re off, sent to a secret base to await their next assignment.
And while there, they tell campfire stories. A child sees their fire and comes up to tell her (comically incomplete) tale of hazardous waste terror. Meanwhile, Lizardo (Benoît Poelvoorde), an alien, makes his plans to destroy the “annoying” Earth.
All of the studio-released-photographs and much of the focus of this farce is on the superheroes. But these anecdotes eat up maybe half of the movie’s limited running time.
Two couples are killed off when they discover an antique “Thinking Helmet” which one woman puts on, only to realize what useless boors she’s stuck with on this vacation. An industrial accident tale has a lummox trapped in a giant shredder, apologizing, not wanting to “make a fuss” as his crew stumbles through instructions on how to free him, blundering their way to chewing him up until his still-functioning mouth and a bucket of goo is all that’s left to apologize for causing all this effort.
Little is done with the “secret base” except to show Team leader Benzene (Lellouche of “Tell No One” and the recent “Kompromat”) catching a barracuda, only to have it complain when it’s thrown on a grill, and to make a gag out of futuristic fridges equipped with a “supermarket” behind their door, including a clerk who will fetch whatever you want.
The overarching idea that no society or government or parent or spouses or some superpowered “team” can truly keep anyone safe seems ambitious, and vague. But maybe that’s not what Dupieux was getting at.
I’m not a big Dupieux fan, and this generally incoherent and barely amusing at all film leans into my “comedies for stoners” theory about him. “Rubber” sent up horror in a story with a tale of a tire run amok, wrecking cars and killing everyone it stalks. It is what it is, but in that case, that added up to a movie.
The gimmick and the satiric target here are broader and the punches miss the mark far more often than they land. But if you’re blitzed enough…
Rating: unrated, gore played for laughs, profanity
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Oulaya Amamra, Vincent Lacoste
Credits: Scripted and directed by Quentin Dupieux. Magnolia/Magnet release.
Running time: 1:18