Featuring stories of a homicidal tire with psionic powers (Rubber) and a jacket that influences its wearer to commit crimes (Deerskin), the filmography of French writer-director Quentin Dupieux is peppered with absurdist comedy premises that never quite go down the route you’re expecting. This is all while the filmmaker takes them at complete face value, no matter how deranged the eventual diversions from the loose narratives’ starting points. Get on their specific wavelength and there is something of an internal logic, even where logic seems to not actually exist.
That undermining of dramatic expectations concerning a high-concept premise is at its peak in his very amusing latest release, Smoking Causes Coughing. It’s there in the plot, in which world-threatening stakes are abruptly paused because an intergalactic villain remembers he has a dinner engagement. But it’s also there within the film’s very structure. All promotional material would suggest this to be a blood-soaked pastiche of a very specific mode of superhero fiction: tokusatsu TV shows such as Kamen Rider or Super Sentai, in which masked fighters battle rubber-suited monsters. Think Power Rangers, for which Super Sentai footage was the source material.
While the heroes – known as the Tobacco Force – do have the most screen time, their affairs also serve as a framing device for a series of so-called scary stories, two of which are told by campfire as the heroes are on a work retreat, like they’re the kids from Are You Afraid of the Dark? In appropriate Duplieux fashion, the third tale is told by a character as they’re being cooked alive.
Despite all its red herrings, this entertaining anthology does have one compelling thematic throughline, in slackers finding themselves in extraordinary scenarios, only to primarily focus on the distractions of more ordinary human dilemmas. Indeed, who among us has not developed a crush on our boss who is a talking rat that drools an unspecified green goo from their mouth?
Smoking Causes Coughing will be released in cinemas on 7 July