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Flirting with Disaster
Click for full sized poster

Flirting with Disaster

Starring Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni
With Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Lily Tomlin
Written and Directed by David O. Russell
website: http://www.miramax.com

Flirting With Disaster begins with a four month old boy with no name. An insecure father, and a mother afraid that she's lost her figure and desperately in need of attention.

Mel Coplin is distracted because he was adopted. He can't or won't name the boy until he knows his roots. At the adoption agency is a counselor, in the throes of her own divorce and also in need of attention, who bends the rules to help him. Mel's adoptive parents go emotionally ballistic, Jewish angst and guilt erupting so mightily it sticks to the walls. But Mel is determined. So he, his wife Nancy, the baby, and the counselor all go to find the real mother.

It's a comedy. Really. And a very funny one at that.

In short order FWD sets its comic cross hairs on Republican Presidents, Jewish couples, gay couples, Good Samaritans, drugs, Feds, female body parts above the waist, male body parts below the waist and accompanying sexual activities relating thereto... a lot...

That list is generic. Anything more would spoil any number of the terriffic gags David O. Russell has built into his script. But of those gags, A ridiculous percentage are based on sex and body parts -- Russell's last movie was "Spanking the Monkey," a euphemism for masturbation. Sense a pattern? Don't -- no one gag is run into the ground. If you are tres conservative and fundamental, there is no way you're going to like this movie. Else, you may find yourself applauding at the end, as the audience I saw it with did.

Even with the adoption motif at its center, FWD is about sex, pure and simple. How you do it. Who you do it with. Who you did it with. How you deal with what's left after Mother Nature kicks in and the baby kicks out. If you think you've heard all there is to hear on this topic, you're wrong. FWD is the funniest thing I've seen in at least a week. And the jokes start right up top and continue to work, right into the end credits. Everyone who got up to get out early, jammed the aisles because "it wasn't over" and they couldn't take their eyes off the screen.

Ben Stiller plays Mel Coplin, whose commitment to non-committal behavior is the spark that sets the ball rolling. Patricia Arquette is Nancy, the wife who puts up with it all, until she can't anymore. Tea Leoni, seen mostly in a series of wretched TV sticoms, is the incompetent counselor whose errors keep this show steadily on track. As the trio travels cross country, from California to Michigan to New Mexico, they become a group of five with all the sexual cross pollination that could imply. If it happens. And then things get *really* weird.

Dropping the hint gives nothing away. Though this is only Russell's second work, the quality of the movie is reflected both in the freshness of the script's comic material and in the name brand actors he cast in the supporting roles. With Stiller and Arquette pretty much serving as foils, we are introduced to Mary Tyler Moore as Mel's mother; just as obsessed with Nancy's figure as she is. George Segal as Mel's father sees disaster at every turn. (Actually, so does Mary). Together, they are a perfect representation of older Jewish couples I know (and thankfully don't have in my immediate family). Obsessed with trivia, passive/aggressive in the extreme, and funny as a four letter word which would have them yelling at you to watch your language.

Leoni is the incredibly sexy, pill popping, neurotic, sexually needy counselor whose character is the weakest of the lot. She wants to document Mel's "reunion" for her graduate work, but most of the time she forgets to run the video camera. She doesn't *intentionally* try to seduce Mel, but the sexy underwear cannot be missed. But every flaw delivers a gag. Which is good enough.

Finally, Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin appear as All-American as can be. Which means there's a dark secret hidden way beneath the New Mexico desert where they live. Our party of five stumble into it and life goes totally off the wall.

And along the way a lot of inanimate objects get trashed.

As above, if you have no problems with sexual jokes Flirting With Disaster is a mucho major date movie. You can see it twice and still not get all the jokes from the laughter in the audience. Which brings me to the fun part.....

It costs Eight Dollars to see a first run movie here in New York City. If Cranky could set his own price for Flirting With Disaster, he would pay....

$7.75

The only thing keeping this thing from a perfect, see-it-two-times (which I will anyway) $8.00 rating is Russell's insistence on using MTV style jerky hand held camera movements again and again. Once is enough. More than that makes my stomach turn. It is almost offset by some lovely establishing tracking shots as each location is introduced, but not quite.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.