de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

Get ready to board Quentin Dupieux’s crazy train again with his latest endeavor, Smoking Causes Coughing (Fumer Fait Tousser), a sardonic pastiche of retro superhero shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a shockingly straightforward message: chill out. The film follows the ironically named Tobacco Force, composed of stoic leader Benzène (Gilles Lellouche), Methanol (Vincent Lacoste), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Mercure (Jean-Pascal Zadi), and Ammoniaque (Oulaya Amamra), all named after cigarette additives. They report to an overworked rat puppet named Chief Didier (voiced by Alain Chabat), reminiscent of Master Splinter channeling Zordon. After struggling to defeat a glaringly obvious man in a turtle costume, Didier sends the Tobacco Force on a retreat to reconnect as teammates.

The narrative angle of a superhero team on vacation quickly subverts the Super Sentai-style martial arts action that such a visual inspiration implies. And here are nary any deviations from the angle to surprise viewers besides the anthology format that Dupieux interposes between team bonding moments; Benzène suggests that the Tobacco Force exchange scary stories for passing the time, which includes one about a welder’s helmet that causes the wearer’s thoughts to become isolated and ridiculously bleak. Another story, told by a talking fish, is even more ludicrous, and this review would prefer not to spoil it here. The film’s structure, therefore, invites the viewer to sit back and soak in the wild hilarity of every situation without the headache of having to scavenge some deep meaning.

Smoking Causes Coughing' Review: Quentin Dupieux's Superhero Comedy - Variety Courtesy Magnolia Pictures

When villain Lézardin suddenly threatens to destroy Earth at the film’s midway point, the Tobacco Force scrambles to devise a solution before their nigh-invulnerable super-selves get obliterated. This pivot briefly presents Dupieux’s audience with some suspense, only to revert it and place us right back in the deliberately slow-paced ride that is Smoking Causes Coughing. While the film inherently lacks the thrilling storyline of Rubber or the more focused concept of Deerskin, it compromises by providing a unique cinematic experience only Dupieux can conceive: a remarkably wacky adult mishmash of ’80s- and ’90s-era kids’ television that asks you to disconnect from the world and destress. The rather plain cinematography and dull color palette, seemingly ripped straight from Power Rangers, only enforces the movie’s tongue-in-cheek tone. Furthermore, the exaggerated gore effects are a blatant request to shed your inhibitions and have fun.

Smoking Causes Coughing will likely only appeal to a niche audience and those millennials nostalgic enough to want to see a mature, French Power Rangers parody (much to their eventual disappointment—or maybe not). Still, the Dupieux faithful will likely connect with another absurdist picture that leaps across genres, has plenty of head-scratching moments, and contains plenty of cringy but undeniably hilarious moments as well. Others should lower their expectations significantly, grab a snack, and revel in the Mel Brooks-style wackiness of a 24/7 attendant tucked inside an industrial-size fridge and the disgusting irony of a felt rat drooling green goo being the universe’s most sexually desirable creature. And by the end, when these otherwise superficial characters bond over their shared stressors and desire to live, you can also hopefully learn to unwind a bit.

Smoking Causing Coughing opens Friday 3/31 in Limited Theaters