French humor is a peculiar business, and one need look no farther than the outlandish Smoking Causes Coughing (2022) for evidence. This superhero-flavored comedy anthology is as zany as it is bleak, without being either funny or thought-provoking enough to push it over the top.
The rather random premise is that there is a superhero team known as the Tobacco Force—Benzene (Gilles Lellouche), Nicotine (Anaïs Demoustier), Ammonia (Oulaya Amamra), Mercury (Jean-Pascal Zadi), and Methanol (Vincent Lacoste)—who work together to save the world from kaiju monsters and super-villainous threats. At the behest of their rodent-puppet commander, the five of them go on a team-building retreat to prepare for a perilous, apocalyptic event. There, they exchange scary stories that tend to involve quirky, existential dilemmas, until ultimately they face their own.
Oh yes, this is a weird film, and outwardly it is weird in the right ways. With a production sensibility that mixes Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and/or Danger 5 with Kafkaesque dark comedy and truly unexpected, surreal thought experiments, it has a random, anything-goes feel, and a welcome undercurrent of what-the-fuckery. But the humor, perhaps lost in translation, never fully lands, and its cockeyed, grim point of view delivers vibes without a genuine message. Giving it side-eyed attention, it’s an appealingly kooky construct, but far from successful.