Flirting with Disaster (1996) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual situations
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Josh Brolin, Richard Jenkins, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, George Segal, Mary Tyler Moore
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. Russell

Review published December 24, 2003

Before hitting it big with his smash hit Three Kings, writer-director David O. Russell made his mark with small indie comedies like Spanking the Monkey and this cult gem, Flirting with Disaster.  Reminiscent of the mostly improv feel that would become a trademark of Woody Allen, it's a refreshing comedy that gets most of its laughs through eccentric characters stuck in funny situations.   Without good improv comic actors, this type of flick could easily fail, so we're fortunate such veterans as Richard Jenkins (It Could Happen to You, Wolf), George Segal (The Babysitter, Stick), Lily Tomlin (Short Cuts, The Player), and Alan Alda (Manhattan Murder Mystery, Crimes and Misdemeanors) are along for the ride, in addition to Ben Stiller (Happy Gilmore, The Cable Guy) and Tea Leoni (Bad Boys, A League of Their Own), in one of the earlier films to show off their comedic talents.

Ben Stiller stars as neurotic Mel Coplin, a grown man who hits the road with his wife (Arquette, Holy Matrimony), infant son, and an adoption counselor (Leoni), in hopes of finding his biological parents.  The search for his roots begins a road trip that leads them to travel from New York across the country, and through a series of mishaps, things get a bit crazy.  It's all one strange and perilous situation after another, and to make matters worse, they contend with extramarital temptations and mistaken identity situations.

Flirting with Disaster is amiably amusing, with a good share of moments that will make you smile, even if you don't find it laugh-out-loud funny.  Everyone in the cast looks to be having a fun time, and give their all in their respective performances.  Russell directs in a somewhat voyeuristic fashion, with a steady-cam following the cast members around, making us feel like we are an invisible member of the cast listening in on real conversations.  As a momentary diversion, this is a worthwhile choice, although it's instantly forgettable once it's over.  Looking for a decent comedy that's not too heavy and easy on the brain?  Flirting with Disaster fits the bill as an enjoyable time-killer.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo