Flirting With Disaster (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ben Stiller plays the adopted son of loving neurotics. He's not an unhappy man, but the birth of his own first child has prompted him to wonder about his true identity, and he can't even think about naming the baby until he knows more about himself. Finding his birth parents is what the film is all about. He makes several missteps along the way, thanks first to an incompetent case worker from the adoption agency, then to a mix-up about who actually donated the sperm to his mother. (It turns out that it wasn't his mother's husband.) Along the way, Ben runs into an assortment of eccentric characters. Indeed, pretty much every character is eccentric, from his adoptive parents to his pseudo-parents to his biological parents to his newly-discovered brother to a couple of gay Feds who cross everyone's path. Ol' Ben is also having some problems in his marriage, so he and the wife (Patricia Arquette) are both flirting with outsiders - with disaster, if you will -  and various romantic entanglements form and dissolve along the way.

This film was a moderate financial success - about on the level of a Woody Allen film. It grossed $14 million on a $5 million budget and made Miramax a profit, but the Weinsteins had been hoping for something in the $30 million range and failed to greenlight a second film in their two-picture option deal with writer/director David O. Russell. As it turned out, that worked out great for Russell, who moved over to Warner Brothers. Warner opened up their checkbooks and gave Russell about a $50 million budget to make Three Kings, a film which did well at the box office while establishing Russell as a major talent.

The enthusiastic critical reaction to Flirting With Disaster baffles me. When it was released, critics threw garlands and flowers in its path as if it were Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Rotten Tomatoes estimates that 87% of the reviews were positive, and even the few dissenters offered plenty of compliments. Damned if I can figure it out. It's not the kind of film that critics usually go ga-ga over. It isn't edgy, or brainy, or "heavy." It basically plays out like a 90-minute pilot for a sitcom, and the sitcom situations are punctuated by the presence of familiar sitcom actors like Mary Tyler Moore and Alan Alda. It is filled with a lot of raunchy sex talk, so it would be a cable sitcom, but there's no nudity, so it would be basic cable. I got a few laughs out of it, but my reaction was that it was the kind of broad, familiar, edgeless comedy that older people like, as opposed to something from a hip young director. The judgment of history on Flirting With Disaster is about the same as my own feeling - it's an OK comedy in the "good, not great" category. It is rated a so-so 6.9 at IMDb, which is respectable, but not what one would expect from a film with 87% positive reviews. Its IMDb rating is even lower (6.2) among non-Americans, who probably can't relate as well to the American archetypes being spoofed by the various characters.



  • The transfer is anamorphically enhanced
  • Deleted scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Original featurette


Patricia Arquette shows her right breast, but from the side/rear (no visible nipple). Her areola is partially visible in a breast-feeding scene.

One of Arquette's breasts is visible while she lies on her back in a deleted sex scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a half out of four stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $14.7 million on a maximum of about a thousand screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C, a good comedy, not a great one. It was somewhat overrated by the critics of its time, but the IMDb rating is a reasonable score.

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