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Flirting With Disaster

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Flirting With Disaster

Starring: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette
Director: David O. Russell
Rated: R
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Tea Leoni, Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Glenn Fitzgerald

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER is a movie that constants flirts with disaster. It plays like a low budget experimental comedy where screenwriter and director David O. Russell throws everything he can into the script as if this is his only chance ever to make a comedy. You may remember him from his only other film, SPANKING THE MONKEY, which he wrote and directed. That film is a serious, moving, and shockingly frank look at incest, and is also a much better movie. Some people incorrectly labelled that picture as a comedy. It wasn't.

All of the above notwithstanding, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER had enough big laughs that I did like it. When people ask me how I manage to take such great photographs, I tell them my secret is composition and quantity. Russell used my later technique. If you put enough jokes in and you are raunchy and experimental enough, some are bound to hit the mark. A lot of the movie is in bad taste; some jokes fall like a stone; but, the ones that work are great.

The movie is about Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) embarking on a journey to find his real parents since he feels he can not name his four month old son until he meets his real parents. He is accompanied on the trip by his beautiful wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and an even more beautiful doctor-in-training from his adoption agency, Tina Kalb (Tea Leoni). His adoptive parents are played by Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal.

As an example of the crudeness of the script, the movie starts with Nancy having sex with Mel while he protests since he is holding their baby. In an embarrassing scene, Mary Tyler Moore raises her blouse to show a living room full of people how a strong bra is her trick to keeping a good figure. There are other examples that are hard to describe in a G rated review of an R rated movie.

The mother can not understand Mel's motivation so she asks, "Why does he have to do the Roots thing? Aren't we good enough parents?" The running joke in the movie is that they go on a series of wild goose chases where they find people who turn out not to be Mel's real parents afterall. The first jaunt is to take them to San Diego, but they are warned by Mel's adoptive father that, "San Diego has a big carjacking problem. They bump you, and when you stop, they mutilate you." His first "real" mom, Valerie Swaney, is sweet but strange and full of strange little homilies. She tells Mel when he breaks her prized possession that, "All children break things. All children are forgiven. It's a gift from God."

His first "real" dad tries to teach him how to drive a big rig. Mel manages to smash a small post office with the truck. Two gay agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms show up. Agent Tony (Josh Brolin) is bisexual and an old high school boyfriend of Nancy's. The sterner Agent Paul (Richard Jenkins) tells Mel, "You do know it is a federal offense to destroy a United States Post Office?"

Most of the show has the five of them, Mel, Nancy, Tina, Paul, and Tony on a road trip to find Mel's actual real parents played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda along with his brother played by Glenn Fitzgerald. At the start they rent two cars and as they try to find their cars in a sea of identical Budget rental cars, Nancy reflects, "Does anybody actually own a white Taurus or are they all rentals?" My favorite scene in the movie is an indescribable sight gag that happens after Mel and Tina almost get it on at a B & B where they are all staying.

Poor Mary Tyler Moore is pathetic in the film and looks like she is suffering from extreme sleep depravation. George Seagal is not much better, and they are both embarrassments. The other actors and actresses do fine, but nothing special. The relative success of the picture rises and falls with the undulations of the script. With lines like Lily Tomlin's, "We love you very much. If you were Jeffrey Dahlmer, we would still love you" or Tony's, "Do you mind if I take a look at your armpits? I think armpits are the prettiest part of a woman's body," the audience is in stitches. I am sad to report that a lot of the movie had me with my mouth hanging open going "huh?" as many attempts were duds.

FLIRTING WITH DISASTER runs a fast 1:30. It is rated R for frequent sex, constant and very explicit sexual language, and an LSD drug usage scene. There is no nudity or violence. I think the film would be okay for most teenagers, but no one younger. I hate to say it, but many parents in my audience brought kids from ages 4-10 years old. This bizarre show is not for everyone, but I liked it and am glad I saw it. If you like quirky sexual comedies, I recommend this film; otherwise, don't waste your time. If you do go, stay through all of the credits and watch the even more bizarre outtakes. I give this funny, but highly uneven film ** 1/2.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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