Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ben Stiller, Tea Leoni, Patricia Arquette, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Josh Brolin
Written by: David O. Russell
Directed by: David O. Russell
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality and a comic drug scene
Running Time: 92
Date: 03/22/1996

Flirting with Disaster (1996)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Family Tree Sap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I caught this modern-day screwball comedy from writer/director David O. Russell in theaters I didn't think much of it, and it's even less appealing now. This is the kind of movie in which someone mentions LSD, and you know that before long the hero will unfailingly ingest said LSD at the worst possible time, performing in the broadest possible comic manner.

The hero is played by Ben Stiller, an actor I didn't like back then and can't stand now that he's ten times as popular. (He has five movies coming out in 2004.) He tries to play a Woody Allen-like neurotic nebbish, but instead of making him human and appealing, he makes him arrogant, aggravating and self-obsessed. He always comes across like a man performing in front of a mirror, captivated by what he sees. (It's no mistake that Stiller would go on to create the male model character Zoolander.)

Stiller plays Mel Coplin, a new father who goes on a quest to find his birth parents before he can bring himself to name his baby. He's accompanied by his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and Tina Kalb (Tea Leoni), a sexy, leggy official from the adoption agency. They meet an increasingly bizarre set of characters, including Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin.

Besides Stiller, the rest of the performers handle the comedy with the right amount of insight and pathos, and portions of the movie work because of their skill.

DVD Details: Miramax has dusted the film off for a new DVD to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It comes with deleted scenes, outtakes, a featurette and an optional French language track.

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