Flirting with Disaster [1996]

Sometimes a filmmaker's second movie gets labeled as a sophomore slump. David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey) shreds that fate with Flirting with Disaster, an outrageous, free-spirited comedy about private people forced into public situations. Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) finds the opportunity he's been waiting a lifetime for: an adoption agency rep (Téa Leoni) has located his birth parents and the agency will fly him to California if they can record the reunion. With wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and new son in tow, the neurotic Mel is compelled to discover his origins, despite the protests of his neurotic adoptive parents (a wonderful Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal). To give away the plot any more would be a crime, but as the title states, Mel is on a collision course of Oedipal proportions. Russell, who made incest an intriguing black-comedy topic in Spanking, is very liberal with sex and permits dangerous situations. His characters mix it up at a moment's notice. The two women along for the ride are not just bit players: Leoni (Deep Impact) keeps her high-energy comic routine flying, while the grounded Arquette keeps the baby in arm, despite the mad wanderings of her husband. Stiller is a perfect comic foil. --Doug Thomas

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