Patricia Arquette and Ben Stiller star in FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, directed by David O. Russell for Miramax Films.

Flirting with Disaster (1996, David O. Russell)

The first forty-five minutes of Flirting with Disaster play like Woody Allen mixed with a 1990s Miramax indie, which makes sense, since Flirting is a 1990s Miramax indie. That first half is real strong comedy of errors, then Josh Brolin’s bi (but married to fellow ATF agent Richard Jenkins, who’s phenomenal) old friend starts hitting on Patricia Arquette (who’s playing Ben Stiller’s neglected wife, while Stiller lusts for Téa Leoni) and the whole thing becomes very… common. Everything gets wrapped up with a neat little bow and instead of being quirky–David O. Russell combines hand-held with these somewhat epical establishing shots. They might have been shot from a car, hand-held, but they’re still epical. And the sound editing in that first half is fantastic too.

So what happens to Flirting with Disaster? Apparently, Russell decided the whole thing couldn’t be about Leoni’s adoption agent leading Stiller on wild goose chase after wild goose chase for well-cast possible birth parents. When the film gets to Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin, it speeds up. The pace had been a little hurried already, but then it’s all of a sudden over and it’s all a cop-out.

The film’s funny and the acting’s great. Only Brolin is weak. Leoni’s great, Arquette’s great in the first half, Stiller’s great until he has to wrap the film up with one apology… George Segal’s got some great moments with Mary Tyler Moore, but it’s all the script for them. Russell cast the film really well, but his script keeps a sense of artifice about the viewing experience, like he knew the audience wasn’t going to be able to get over Mary Tyler Moore flashing her bra either.

It’s sort of too bad and sort of not. At its best, Flirting with Disaster is a Woody Allen movie with acid (not on acid, with acid), at its worst, it’s an unaware Ganz-Mandel comedy with a quirky cast.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by David O. Russell; director of photography, Eric Edwards; edited by Christopher Tellefsen; music by Stephen Endelman; production designer, Kevin Thompson; produced by Dean Silvers; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Ben Stiller (Mel Coplin), Patricia Arquette (Nancy Coplin), Téa Leoni (Tina Kalb), Mary Tyler Moore (Mrs. Coplin), George Segal (Mr. Coplin), Alan Alda (Richard Schlicting), Lily Tomlin (Mary Schlicting), Richard Jenkins (Paul), Celia Weston (Valerie Swaney) and Josh Brolin (Tony).


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