The story revolves around Aaron Eckhart, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. He's great at his job. He can sell milk to a cow. When his grade school son brings this divorced dad to class for "what does your parent do for work day," Eckhart tries to convince the kids that smoking isn't bad for you. He can come up with a plan to keep smoking relevant in an instant. He connects with a Hollywood producer (deliciously played by Rob Lowe) to get characters in an outer space movie to smoke. He takes on a hard-nosed U.S. Senator (a perfect William H. Macy) who loathes Big Tobacco. The senator is from Vermont, home of fatty cheese, so of course there's a huge laugh in all of that. I mean, come on, when's the last time you heard a gag with cheese in it that brings down the house.

And there's the muckraking, anti-smoking journalist played by Katie Holmes with whom Eckhart has hot, kitchen counter-banging sex. All for the love of the job.

Thank You For Smoking is written and directed by Jason Reitman, who has a sharp eye for keeping the visuals working and a smart ear for witty dialogue. The script is based on the popular book by Christopher Buckley. Reitman has written scenes with Eckhart and a pair of other lobbyists (guns and booze) that help propel the movie. There's a crusty, aged, former male model (Marlboro Man style), whose health has been seriously affected by smoking. And there's the Captain, a Big Tobacco honcho (wonderfully played by Robert Duvall) who cracks: "I was in Korea shooting Chinese in 1952. Now they're out best customers. Next time we won't have to shoot so many of them."

Reitman's screenplay is whiplash perfect; it hones in on the subject matter with laser-like precision. There's hilarious commentary on the American legal system, business ethics, freedom of _expression, and myriad other facets of the great smoking debate.

For drama, Eckhart gets kidnapped and beaten within an inch of his life by anti-smoking nuts. Does he use it to his advantage? What do you think? Are Smoke Nazis dangerous to the fabric of American society? Or is smoking worse than an erosion of rights? Decide for yourself. The levelheaded film is nuanced to a T.

Moviemakers have always used hit men (or is it hit persons) and gangsters and low-level mob figures as fodder for plots, both dramatic and comedic. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they don't. With Lucky Number Slevin, I think they get it right. This is a mob comedy that contains echoes of some of the British caper comedies of the 1950s. It may not be as brilliant as The Lavender Hill Mob, but in its own way, Lucky Number Slevin satisfies. It also reminded me of the determined camaraderie of Mario Monicelli's Italian delight, Big Deal On Madonna Street. It is heresy for me to be mentioning these two treats in the same paragraph as Lucky Number Slevin? To some, of course it is. Not to me, because I liked it.

See, that's the fun of going to the movies, especially movies about the big con.

Lucky Number Slevin has twists and turns and feeds upon itself. It's both elliptical and straightforward. Pay attention and you shouldn't get lost in the numerous plot threads. It really does hang together. I've read some nitpicking here and there about it, but I'm not buying it. Everything is explained. There are flashbacks and flashforwards and a lot of other gritty visuals. There are laughs. There is violence. There are cons within cons within cons. Hall of mirrors, indeed!

The gist of the plot is that a father and his son are seized by mob guys. Dad owes a lot of money after placing a losing horseracing bet with a bookie (Danny Aiello). Years later, the kid's in his twenties and finds himself on the short end of the stick. He loses his job, and his girl friend is having sex with another guy. The young man (Josh Hartnett) goes to crash with a pal, but the pal has left his apartment. Hartnett stays at the apartment, only to be rousted by low-level goons for The Boss, played by Morgan Freeman. The Boss wants a debt paid. Does Hartnett owe the money? The Boss will absolve the debt if he kills the son of another mob guy (The Rabbi, played by Ben Kingsley). Enter a hit man played by Bruce Willis, who actually has already entered earlier in the film, but I won't tell you why, or how. Lucy Liu lives across the hallway from Hartnett's friend's apartment. She works at the morgue. There's a rabid cop played by Stanley Tucci.

The above is only a road map.

Directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Jason Smilovic, Lucky Number Slevin may seem too clever for its own good. But honestly, it isn't. It's good because the cleverness works. I was never bored. I enjoyed the acting and the level of fun and the hint of turmoil and the all-pervasive aura of danger. I like movies that make me stay alert. Other critics tuned out because the decided that the cleverness was too coy. I tuned in because the cleverness was tongue-in-cheek. It's fun to watch the action and to listen to the snappy sentences. Who's zooming who in Lucky Number Slevin? You'll have to go to find out.

A widowed, dejected ballroom dancing master, from Europe and the King Of The Tango, is walking along a New York City street. He sees a high school kid break into a car. He goes to the principal of the school and tells her that he can change the students' lives by teaching them to tango. Voila? Or is ole? Anyway, instant movie. But not a very good one. Take The Lead is a fictionalized version of the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. Only this time around, the students are hip-hop high schoolers, not innocent elementary kiddies.

It's fun watching Antonio Banderas dance, which he does very well. It's always fun watching Alfre Woodard do anything. But the movie fails to fuse its hip-hop elements with its tango elements. The clash of musical tastes jars, rather than flows into a solid film. Cliches abound. Tough kids abound. Is the effect of learning to ballroom dance really different for both good and bad students? Director Liz Friendlander and screenwriter Dianne Houston have taken the dreadful old "black athletes can't play sports until a grizzled white coach teaches them how to" routine and have run it into the ground. Where the movie should soar, it sinks under the weight of familiarity.

Banderas in a tux gliding along a dance floor is pure pleasure, however. By Michael Calleri

ALT Movie Editor THE NEWSROOM Movie Critic

Three new features for your entertainment. I'm a great believer in not giving away too much of a movie. So this review of Thank You For Smoking is going to be relatively short. Basically, go see it. Now, here's why should you go see it. It's the best American movie satire I've seen since Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, and I've seen a lot of American movie satires and attempts at satire.