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Flirting with Disaster Review

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A young man, his wife, and his incompetent case worker travel across country to find his birth parents.

★★★★★

Despite the exuberant effort and an attractively off-beat cast, director Russell, with his follow-up to the left-field shock tactics of Spanking The Monkey, upheld an unfortunate tradition. Americans don't get farce. They dress it up too shiny, they go easy when the crap should ram in torrents, and no race on earth understands the art of dignified defeat like the British. And after a cutely entertaining first 20 minutes, it gives up on replicating the underwear nuances of that doubly institution of a thousand Blighty reps and descends into an unfunny, double-speed sitcomery that keeps listening for the reassuring timbre of canned laughter.

It's a shame because the concept has legs. Hyper-neurotic New Yorker Stiller, doing a woody Woody Allen, discovers he is adopted and despite the loving attention of his wife (Arquette) and baby, has to enlist the suspect assistance of an agency girl (the sassy Leoni) and hit the road in search of his biological folks.

The sting is Leoni keeps messing up her sources, so Stiller rattles through a series of impossible parentage (redneck truck driver, Californian beach mum etc.) and disastrous retreats involving inadvertent structural damage to various neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, his adoptive parents (the great pairing of George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore) give chase, two closet homosexual FBI agents get on their case, and Arquette thinks he's giving the incredibly sexy Leoni (whose character's dubiousness is never explored) far too much attention.

And when he finds his "real" parents they are stuck in some dope-fuzzed New Mexico 60s time warp, present him to a psychotically jealous dimwit brother, and are horribly overplayed by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda. In British hands, this could have worked a treat, but Russell's take is loud and glaringly unsubtle.

The cast working their Hollywood butts off to give it life and certainly Moore delivers her delicious pouty fussing with aplomb, but after the laughs have been drained from its opening quarter, it just labours on indifferently.

A chaotic road movie striving under the misapprehension that if you chuck enough gags at the wall, some have got to stick. Very few do.