Picks and Pans Review: Flirting with Disaster
According to the medical literature, the zanies can attack without warning, flooding the brain with farcical plot complications. Let's hope writer-director David O. Russell, who made a striking feature debut with 1994's offbeat Spanking the Monkey, recovers. This one is a wobbly mess, the story of an entomologist (Stiller), adopted as a baby, who tries to track down his biological parents with the help of a social worker (the willowy Leoni). The cross-country scenario takes such preposterous wrong turns that it's like It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with a self-validation theme.
If Russell has problems with plot, he has none with people. The large, eccentric cast—including George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as Stiller's adoptive parents, and Lily Tomlin as a dangerous holdover from the '60s—all seem to be in a playful, almost ticklish mood. (R)