(Air Date: Week Of 03/27/96)
Call it the sophomore jinx, or maybe a case of the emperor's new clothes. I'm talking about independent filmmakers who make one decent film, then sign a studio deal and turn out a slick, self-indulgent and boring movie. Richard Linklater choked badly with "Before Sunrise," Kevin Smith misfired with "Mallrats" and Eric Shaeffer's "If Lucy Fell" is still stinking up a few unfortunate theaters even as we speak. Now comes "Flirting with Disaster," a hideously unfunny family farce written and directed by David O. Russell, whose first film was a well-curdled original called "Spanking the Monkey."
"Flirting with Disaster" stars Ben Stiller as a neurotic New Yorker who suddenly becomes obsessed with finding his birth parents after 25 years. George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore, his bickering, caricatured adoptive parents, lay on the guilt in what's supposed to be a painfully humorous scene. Yeah, well, Woody Allen notwithstanding, neurotic Jewish schtick stopped being funny 20 years ago.
In any event, Stiller embarks on a crosscountry quest, accompanied by his wife Patricia Arquette, their newborn son, and a hot-looking adoption agency psychologist played by Tea Leoni. One wild goose chase and slapstick misadventure follows another, none of them entertaining. Stiller and Leoni knock over an entire glass bric a brac collection while thumbwrestling, and a few minutes later Stiller backs a big rig into a rural post office. It's almost as hilarious as Steven Seagal handing out an Academy Award. And in the midst of all the pointless chaos, Stiller is bland and vapid as can be, kind of like Jerry Seinfeld without a personality.
So "Flirting With Disaster" tries to keep our flagging interest with endless shots of Patricia Arquette's cleavage and Tea Leoni's legs. That only helps a little, so the film is also full of funky camera angles, quick-fire editing, a rock/pop soundtrack and handheld camerawork in a desperate attempt to inject some energy into the idiotic proceedings.
I feel compelled to report that, to my amazement, "Flirting with Disaster" received raves from The New York Times and Variety, who called it a "sly satire." Of what? The tattered institution of marriage? The absurdity of family ties? The futility of jealousy? Read my lips: "Flirting with Disaster" is an excruciating waste of time that's more like a full-scale train wreck than a flirtation.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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