MOVIES . . . FLIRTING WITH DISASTER: "Usually, when a Quentin Tarantino or an Oliver Stone sets out to penetrate the heart of American darkness we sooner or later end up in hysteria and bloodshed," says TIME's Richard Schickel. "But writer-director David O. Russell turns a bland, almost anthropological eye on America in this deadpan, dead-on movie. Nothing surprises him, and nothing outrages him, except for bed-and-breakfast lodgings, about which, at last, his movie tells the terrible truth." The story is of an earnest young fellow named Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) who has been raised by adoptive parents and sets out to find his birth parents. Accompanying Mel on this odyssey are, his wife (Patricia Arquette), hoping that if he finds his roots he may also recover his lost libidinal energy; their baby; and a professionally dysfunctional social worker (Tea Leoni) whose legs seem to have no end and who has a curious sideline in Indian wrestling. "During a presidential election, when the air is thick with pieties about American virtue and the maintenance thereof, it is useful to be reminded that America's private life has always been a lot more entertaining than its public life," Schickel notes. "Russell practices a kind of Post-it Modernism, jotting quick notes on our secret lives and moving on. But make no mistake, he's a dangerous subversive, capable of coolly underflying any V chip ever likely to be invented."