Flirting With Disaster

Directed by David O. Russell

Adopted guy/husband/recent father Mel (Ben Stiller) gets hair up his butt that he wants to find out who his real parents are so he goes back to the agency that placed him for adoption to begin with and finds out that his real mother lives in San Diego, so he and his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette, they have an unnamed baby son) fly to San Diego WITH Tina (Tea Leoni), the lady from the adoption agency (as a chaperone who wants to videotape the reunion for her own research!?!) where his real mom has a pencil etching of Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat on the wall of her ranch-style house and a couple of daughters who look like aspiring candidates for American Gladiators. A little vigorous flirting is done between Mel and Tina (who is recently divorced and randy as all get out), who discovers whilst there that this is NOT his real mother, makes a phone call, punches in some information into the ol’ database and BOOM, seems Mel’s real dad is living in Detroit. Cut to Detroit, dad is a trucker and, before you know it (in a WACKY series of events!!!!) they all get busted by ATF and the two male arresting officers turn out to be married to each other. One is totally high strung and the other, a buff, caring 90s stud (who used to go to the same high school as the wife, Nancy) join them on their trek (vacation for the cops) as it turns out that dad from Detroit was NOT the real dad, so they go to New Mexico (where on the way we find out that the buff, caring 90s gay stud is actually bisexual) where they find Mel’s REAL PARENTS: Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin, whom it turns out were busted for making their own LSD in the 60s and have raised another son who has...uh...carried on the family tradition, is severely anti-social, not to mention psychotic, and tries to slip his long-lost brother Mel some acid in the family dinner but a switcheroo with the seating arrangements takes place and the highly strung detective from Detroit (who is packing heat, even though on vacation) starts to trip instead....Phew!

That’s not even a third of the plot, by the way. This film is so plot-driven and relentlessly acrobatic with it’s schematics and motivations that each time the narrative threads are explained and advanced (SIMULTANEOUSLY) you have to juggle all the various strands so much that your mind freezes up with what’s going on NOW. As a result the characters are hopelessly telegraphed, and even such talent as Alda and Tomlin (not to mention Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal as Mel’s adopted parents) strain to do as much as they can with their roles, but the script is just so much smoke and mirrors to conjure up situations and confrontations that act as dramatizations of talk show themes that the film only really succeeds as a farce careening between an examination and commentary on as many different lifestyles as there are stories in the naked city, and an investigation of marriage. Every lifestyle trotted out is held in suspicion by one character or another, not to mention the ironic distance the audience is given. Only motherhood (if you can call that a "lifestyle," maybe in a passive/aggressive way it’s a "lifestyle" choice) has the obvious sacrosanctity glowing around it like a halo. And how does marriage hold up? Underneath all the plot mechanizations, the basic temptations are A) will the father, who is not sexually interested in his wife because she’s still getting her body back into shape after giving birth, fall for the randy, recently divorced adoption agent with the "dancer’s legs" (some of us call them toothpicks, despite what Hollywood moguls deem erotic) who is trying her best to get into his pants and B) will the mother fall for the buff, caring 90s bisexual stud who is emotionally "there" for her and has much more time and understanding for her predicament and her child than the husband?

Patricia Arquette does the best acting out of all of the cast members and displays the only real voice of sanity in this mess, despite the fact that the filmmakers deemed it necessary to show her boobs every chance they got. Why they didn’t show her legs so we could compare them with the "dancer’s" legs is beyond me. In the introductory scene when Arquette is lounging on her bed, you do get a slight glimpse of her shapely legs (as in SHAPE-ly, not shape-LESS like the "dancer’s") and they looked a lot HEALTHIER and certainly more EROTIC than the TOOTHPICKS/ NEEDLES/STRING CHEESE legs of the "dancer." At root, this film is like an ideological challenge for males: Loving Wife and Caring Mother vs. Sexual Temptation. After it was done I felt like I’d been through some sort of whirlwind. My brain hurt.