Go Go Existential Dread Rangers: Smoking Causes Coughing (2022) - Reviewed


On the surface, Quentin Dupieux's Smoking Causes Coughing (2022) looks like it might be a send-up of Super Sentai shows or even superheroes in general. A team of five individuals, the so-called Tobacco Force, don matching suits and fight monsters with their chemical-themed superpowers. There is Méthanol (Vincent Lacoste), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Benzène (Gilles Lellouche), Murcure (Jean-Pascal Zadi), and Ammoniaque (Oulaya Amamra). When they find themselves in a jam against a stronger enemy, they combine their chemicals together to give the creature "super cancer," which subsequently causes them to explode. Smoking kills. Stay away, kids!

The Tobacco Force reports to a mutant rat named Chief Dedire (voiced by Alain Chabat), who is portrayed by a puppet that looks like it was found in a dumpster and who always has a river of green goo oozing out of his mouth. This gross rat also seems to be a womanizer of sorts; for whatever reason, the constant bile dripping out of his mouth doesn't seem to be a turn-off. Chief hasn't been happy with how cohesive the team has been lately and sends them on a retreat out in the woods to relax and regroup. Later on, Tobacco Force hangs out around a campfire at the retro-futuristic cabin, telling stories. It is at this point the film turns into its proper form: an anthology piece. Each story that is told segues into a short film, most of which are surreal with tinges of horror.

While Dupieux may be satirizing superhero media a tad, he is more interested in exploring the stranger aspects of humanity and how they interact. One story is about a woman on vacation who puts on a strange sensory deprivation helmet and has ego death which causes her to have homicidal ideations. Another one examines a gruesome accident at a machine shop and has a hefty dose of gore. 

The superhero narrative is just a wraparound mechanism to get to the vignettes. Each tale contains dry humor and occasionally poignant observations about existential subjects. It is interesting that the superhero team is based around something considered dangerous, a fact that the team leader is self-aware of; he lectures an adoring child fan on the dangers of smoking (after taking pics and signing autographs).

The visuals, for the most part, are low-key, but there are a lot of practical effects with the monster suits and the carnage. Dupieux went with a cool retro stylization, think Lost in Space, and the electronic score similarly reinforces the spacy vibe. The pacing feels meandering at times, and when it picks up in the third act after introducing a lizard-based supervillain named Lézardin (Benoît Poelvoorde) it seems like it might get exciting, but that is just misdirection. Smoking Causes Coughing is less interested in forward motion and more interested in contemplative energy, ironically like the feeling one gets from having a smoke alone outside on a quiet night.

--Michelle Kisner