With his wife, Kristi (Raine Hilai), out of town, Ethan (Scott Casper) calls an escort service to entertain himself for the evening. When the woman who arrives, Carmen (Erica Ash), isn’t the person he expected, instead of sending her away, he invites her in. Ethan’s plans of infidelity are complicated, however, when a friend of his wife calls, stating that she just saw his wife in the neighborhood. Now Ethan needs to clear Carmen out of his home before his wife arrives, but things aren’t going to be that easy.
Tony Ducret’s short film, I Can Smoke?, is one of those challenging films where I find myself at a loss because on the one hand it is extremely well-made and professional and, on the other hand, it’s about horrible people. Well, to be fair, we don’t really know the Carmen character well enough to say whether she’s horrible, but Ethan is a scumbag of the highest degree.
I mean, nevermind that he’s a condescending rich prick, but he’s stepping out on his wife. And lest you think this is one of those, “this is my first time doing something like this” comedic experiences, this is actually the story of a guy so versed in ordering escorts that he not only has the shorthand lingo down, he’s also concerned about getting the wrong woman sent to him (apparently it’s not uncommon for him). Around the moment he tells Carmen she can’t smoke, you’re already rooting for her to do it anyway.
Which is where the film works, though it is a hard tone to pin down. You start to root against Ethan, but not really for Carmen. You just know you really dislike Ethan, and by the third act you REALLY dislike Ethan, but you’re not really invested in anything other than your own distaste. And, while there are humorous moments in the film, this isn’t one that goes for laughs, and even gets pretty violent by its end. In other words, the tone is uneasy, punctuated by feelings of loathing.
But those are not actually criticisms, because the film works, and even wraps up in a way where you hope to see more adventures of Carmen. It’s just a challenging film to embrace, like In The Company Of Men. That’s a brilliant film full of great performances about some of the most horrible people and situations imaginable. I wouldn’t go so far as to call I Can Smoke? brilliant, but it is polished and entertaining.
I mean, the film looks great. From the lighting to the set design to the composition, everything gels as it should. Couple that with the performances of Scott Casper and Erica Ash, and you’ve got a film that comes together in as quality and professional a manner as you could ever hope.
I don’t know that everyone will embrace the narrative. And though I’m able to enjoy it despite my intense dislike for Ethan, I also don’t know if that feeling of acceptance overall will be a common one. Still, I do hope folks will give it a look for themselves, and decide from there.
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