Bad Behavior

A sensation at Sundance and at the Toronto Film Festival (where it spawned a bidding war with two competing studios claiming they'd bought it), Thank You For Smoking doesn't quite live up to the buzz but it's good, nasty fun nonetheless. Aaron Eckhart (The Company of Men) has his moment in the sun as the perfectly named Nick Naylor, a sliver-tongued shill for the tobacco industry who never met a piece of spin he didn't like. Morallly flexible to the max, Nick has made his deal with the devil, but he's also smart and curiously likeable — as is the movie — and both of them eventually have us eating out of their hands.

First-time writer-director Jason Reitman (son of perennial Hollywood fixture Ivan) positions Nick at the center of a deliciously non-PC satire of modern-day life and a culture grounded in the notion that everything is for sale. The film skewers everybody equally, reveling in the ridiculousness of right-wing gonzo monsters and lefty clowns alike (William H. Macy is a particular treat as a Birkenstock-wearing Vermont Senator). By the time Rob Lowe trots out as a Zen-spouting Hollywood producer, Thank You For Smoking seems to have found its niche, perfectly pitched between hilarious absurdity and shrewd cynicism.

The film fans out in too many directions as it unfolds, and by the end there are at least two or three irons too many in the fire — a kidnapping scheme, a scheming potential love interest (Katie Holmes) and Nick's impressionable son (Cameron Bright) all vie for screen time — but, warts and all, Thank You For Smoking still gets its job done in style. So far, this is the funniest and smartest American comedy of the year. Also stars Robert Duvall, Adam Brody, Maria Bello and David Koechner.

Thank You For Smoking (R) opens April 14 at local theaters. 4 stars