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Flirting With Disaster

Rated R, 92 min. Directed by David O. Russell. Starring Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda, Josh Brolin, Celia Weston.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 5, 1996

Taking the concept of the dysfunctional family to a degree that might even boggle Leo Tolstoy's mind, Flirting With Disaster is every son or daughter's nightmare… multiplied. Here, there are adoptive parents, genetic parents, would-be parents, mistakenly identified parents -- you get the picture. This second feature by Williams -- he wrote and directed the uneasily funny Spanking the Monkey -- is like a Woody Allen movie on some trippy drug. The lead character's neuroses tread familiar Allen territory: He is a whiny, New York Jewish intellectual who can't name his three-month-old son or have sex with his wife again until he finally can meet his biological parents. But the similarities end there. Unlike the weighted feeling of Allen's comedies in the past decade or so, the spirit of Flirting With Disaster is positively wacky, as a crisscross-country reunion between parent and child turns into something akin to a French bedroom farce, social satire, and Three Stooges short all rolled into one. Peppered with some great one-liners, this inspired work is wildly different from the intriguing mesh of teen angst and incest in Spanking the Monkey. That Russell has proven himself so adeptly in both films, however, speaks volumes to his talent as a cutting-edge filmmaker. He creates an absurd logic in Flirting With Disaster and just goes with it, with hilarious results. Although the film's frantic momentum occasionally lags, much to your chagrin, it's probably the result of some law of physics -- no movie could possibly be this funny every minute of its entire length. The cast is simpatico to Russell's rhythms, particularly -- and surprisingly -- Moore as the abrasive, pushy adoptive mother who is horrified by her son's desire to find his roots. Whether she's exposing her bra to make a point about forestalling sagging breasts, smoking a cigarette despite everyone's protestations, or generally making those around her miserable with her neurotic behavior, she all but steals this movie, which is no small accomplishment given this group of actors. Then again, it's difficult to imagine how Moore, the rest of the cast, and the audience could possibly miss with this script and energized direction. Flirting With Disaster is a sure-fire thing, no matter what your perspective is.
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