Striding up alongside such great anti-heroes as Tony Soprano and Scarface comes Nick Naylor, a silver-tongued lobbyist with such a tremendous gift for gab that he actually successfully defends the tobacco industry. And as much as you probably think cigarette makers are evil, you'll find yourself – as with all anti-heroes – actually rooting for this scumbag.
Why? Well, besides star Aaron Eckhart's flawlessly sumptuous performance as Naylor, I'll just quote a line from Naylor himself: "The beauty of argument is that if you argue correctly, you're never wrong." In the end, Nick Naylor is not just right; he's unquestionably the most passionate, most seductive man on the screen, and everyone else just looks limp and dull beside him. Article continues below
It's the golden years just before the tobacco lawsuit payouts, and Naylor's on his way up at the tobacco-funded Academy of Tobacco Studies. He's the golden boy of tobacco patriarch The Captain (Robert Duvall), because he can tell that Nick loves – scratch that – relishes his work. But, away from the office, his only friends are other vice peddlers that go by the nickname The MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad: alcohol lobbyist Polly (Maria Bello) and gun lobbyist Bobby Jay (David Koechner). He's also divorced, struggling to gain the respect of his son Joey (Cameron Bright).
Much of the film follows Nick through that struggle to bond with Joey, which produces some of his most humanizing moments. Nick likes to say he does what he does because of his "yuppie Nuremberg defense": Gotta pay the mortgage. But more likely, these often-sappy vignettes help you understand that it's simply inspiring to do a job you're so good at, and Nick's skill at his craft is what finally wins Joey over.
But the real fun stuff is obviously in Nick's professional life. He takes apart a talk-show panel replete with a balding teen cancer victim. He skewers an anti-smoking-crusading senator (William H. Macy) by comparing "evil" big-tobacco funding to the senator's campaign donations. He conducts a luxuriously amoral meeting with a big-time Hollywood agent (Rob Lowe) who's brokering a deal for more cigarettes in movies. The sets come rapid-fire in this 90-minute comedy, never leaving you deflated, apart from the somewhat ho-hum ending.
The pure backbone of the film is obviously Naylor, and the spinal cord is Eckhart chewing up the scenery in the guise of this rich character. Anyone who dug Eckhart's villainous corporate shark in In the Company of Men will see that brilliance and more here. While I haven't read the Chistopher Buckley book the film is based on, writer-director Reitman seems to zero in on choice, efficient dialogue that helps elevate this movie to new levels of delight.
All of this good fun is just captivating enough to take your mind off the incredibly un-PC stance that it takes on hardcore issues. Afterward, you may feel a little dirty for all the illicit laughs. Good thing you won't feel guilty about having a post-seduction cigarette.