Smoking Causes Coughing (2023 Boston Underground)

After the five Power Ranger-like members of the Tobacco Force vanquish a giant tortoise, their leader Chef Didier (Alain Chabat voicing a rat puppet) tells them he’s concerned about their recent lack of cohesion and orders them on a mandatory retreat at an underground location.  After marveling at such amenities as titanium beds, salt water showers and a refrigerator that contains an entire supermarket complete with checkout clerk, their leader, Benzène (Gilles Lellouche, "Tell No One," "Kompromat"), kicks off a competitive session of campfire tales in “Smoking Causes Coughing.”

Laura's Review: B

If you’ve never seen one of writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s ("Deerskin," "Mandibles") movies, prepare yourself for something off kilter.  If you have, you already know that he’s quite bonkers.  His latest masquerades as a super hero yarn, but that’s merely an elaborate framing device for an anthology film that plays like “Creepshow” or “Tales from the Crypt” as processed through Dupieux’s delightfully warped sense of humor.

Once at their retreat, robotic assistant Norbert 500 commits suicide by taking a long walk off a short pier.  Ammoniaque (Oulaya Amamra) consoles Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier, "Alice and the Mayor"), who’s found her crush Didier in bed with another woman when she video calls to report on the Norbert situation.  Didier advises it was planned, an upgrade, Norbert 1200, arriving shortly (and when it does, it doesn’t act like one).   Meanwhile Méthanol (Vincent Lacoste, "Lost Illusions") invites the checkout lady in the refrigerator to come out for a drink, an invitation that is misinterpreted.

Benzène tells a wild tale of two couples vacationing together who find a 1930 ‘thinking helmet’ which one of the women puts on and refuses to take off, a situation that goes south for all of them.  They’re interrupted by a little girl wandering through the woods who sticks around for the gory story when her parents arrive and urge him on, but when Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi) tries to tell a tale, no one is interested, frustrating him to no end.   Benzène catches a barracuda which astonishes them when it wakens on the grill and proceeds to tell its own tale, a perverse bonding story between a woman and her nephew as she inadvertently feeds him through a wood chipper with hilariously disgusting results illustrated with memorable special effects.           

The gonzo outing wraps so Tobacco Force can face their ultimate mission against Lézardin (Benoît Poelvoorde), an Emperor of Evil when he’s not late to his wife’s dinner table.  “Smoking Causes Coughing” dances to Dupieux’s demented, off key tune.

Robin's Review: B-

The five avengers of the Tobacco Force are exhausted after a battle defeating a giant marauding turtle. Their boss, a huge talking rat named Chief Didier (Alain Chabat), orders them to go on a retreat to find, again, their lost cohesion. But, their R&R is interrupted when the Emperor of Evil, Lezardin (Benoit Poelvoorde), arrives to conquer the Earth in “Smoking Causes Coughing.”

Writer-director Quentin Dupieux has a (deserved) reputation for making off-the wall and funny movies, Just check out the synopsis (if not the films themselves) of “Deerskin (2019)” and “Mandible (2020)” and you will get the idea of what I mean.

When you sit down to watch this compendium of goofy scary stories, it begins with a family on a trip. The son, once again, has to pee and has his dad stop by the road. As he relieves himself, he sees something of wonder and rushes back to the car for binoculars. What he sees is the battle between TF and the really big pissed off turtle.

Things switch gears as, after the battle, Chief Didier contacts the Force and he is upset. The battle did not go as planned and he orders them to take a vacation and get their mojo back. While recuperating from their last fight, they hang around the campfire and tell scary stories and the action switches to each scary tale.

All the while, the evil Lezardin is hatching his nefarious plans to destroy the Earth and, you know, the grandest battle ever will take place and the Tobacco Force will be ready and able for the fight.
Quentin Dupieux has a very strange and imaginative mind and “Smoking Causes Coughing” is a goofy and fun extension of that mind. It is not great “art” but it is an entertaining 80 minutes that you will not mind spending.

Magnet releases “Smoking Causes Coughing” in theaters and on demand on 3/31/23.  It is previewing as part of the 2023 Boston Underground Film Festival – check the schedule here.