(On Cable TV, January 2019) Twenty-few years later, you could think that Flirting with Disaster would be worth a look solely for being an early vehicle for writer/director David O. Russell and a cast with more known names than is worth enumerating. But Russell’s script deliberately leans in the oddball direction (like most of his other movies, in fact) and so this quirky independent comedy soon takes us through the United States with a bunch of eccentric characters as the protagonist tries to find the identity of his biological parents. The plot is contrived, but that’s the nature of the thing. There are twists and turns, humiliating moments, some flirting for both married characters and a few false leads in the biological parent search. Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni make up for a decent trio of leads, with decent supporting players in smaller roles. Mostly but not solely worth watching by Russell fans, Flirting with Disaster amounts to a quirky, amiable, decently entertaining film but not a particularly memorable one even despite its conscious decision to be off the wall.
(On TV, October 2015) Some films age worse than others, and Stigmata certainly is one of them. Granted, it wasn’t a good movie in 1999 and it’s still not a good movie now, but there’s a frantic nature to Stigmata’s direction and editing that smacks of late-nineties style, right after Avid consoles made the process easier but before everyone calmed down enough to make responsible use of it. It also blurs with quasi-contemporary Catholicism-horror film End of Days (both of them even feature Gabriel Byrne, and he looks lost in both), a comparison that does the film not favor when it’s so unremarkable. Here, the mythology is a hodgepodge of heretic Catholicism, good-old demonic possession, bad horror clichés and moody direction that exasperates more than it efficiently tells a story. The film goes crazy with rapid-fire editing and loud music the moment something supernatural happens, and the result isn’t to make us pay more attention (or even scare us) as much as it’s to make us wish for it to end more quickly. I’m not sure if the dull script or director Rupert Wainwright’s work (or good-old classic studio interference) is most to blame for the uninspiring result. Patricia Arquette does turn in a respectable performance with a strong physical component, but the rest of Stigmata can’t do it justice. Ultimately, some movies are better off forgotten.