The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
"Flirting with Disaster'' is a comedy about a subject usually handled more seriously: an adopted man's search for his birth parents. What triggers this quest for Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) is the birth of his first son. He tells his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) that unless he knows who he really is, he doesn't feel able to name his son.
They enlist the aid of Tina (Tea Leoni), an official at the adoption agency, who wants to tag along and videotape their search for "research.'' Tina is obviously going to be trouble. She's a former dancer, lithe and shapely, and she comes along just as Mel and Nancy are experiencing a post-partum sexual crisis.
Mel's search is not as simple as first it seems. The three fly to San Diego for a rendezvous with his natural mother Valerie (Celia Weston), who, like everyone in this film, seems rotated a few degrees from normal. She makes the crucial mistake of thinking Tina is his wife and Nancy is the nanny. He meets his new twin sisters, beach volleyball bimbos. In a progression of events that seems logical at the time but is tricky to explain afterward, Mel and Tina begin by trying to fix a video camera, and end in an Indian wrestling match that knocks over the mother's china cabinet. And then it turns out Valerie is not the real mother after all. She wants to get paid for that broken china.
The movie, it becomes clear, is using the search for roots as an excuse to introduce a series of strange and eccentric characters, and the more of them we meet, the funnier it gets. The writer and director is David O. Russell, whose first feature, the independently produced "Spanking the Monkey," as yet unseen by me, won him the financing for this more ambitious and very funny film. He seems to have used a lot of his budget on the cast, assembling a large group of mostly familiar faces, who project that special joy actors emanate when they know they have a great line coming up.