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Domestic Disturbance (2001)


You would think it’d be a sure bet that a drama with the title Domestic Disturbance would at least be better than its laughable name. But frankly, Domestic Disturbance may as well be called Movie Theater Disturbance. Or, more specifically, Cookie Cutter Clichéd Thriller. This retread of barely suspenseful nail-biters from ten years past (think Pacific Heights and the like) is one lackluster sleepwalk of a movie.

An obvious John Travolta vehicle, it features the healthy-looking, tanned, hit-or-miss star as Frank Morrison, a loving but divorced father who is earthy enough to build wooden boats for a living, and honest enough to not charge a profitable fee. He’s nice. He loves his young son Danny (a natural Matthew O‘Leary), and is dealing with his ex-wife’s (Meet the Parents‘ Teri Polo) marriage to rich investor Rick Barnes (a stale Vince Vaughn, playing a whole other kind of psycho).

Travolta gets a chance to flex his cinematic hero muscles when Rick’s shady past and even shadier acquaintances start to seep into their idyllic Maryland town. When young Danny learns more than he should about his new stepdad, he finds that his history of crying wolf — what a convenient plot point! — means that mom and dad don’t believe him. But, of course, after a night of good and hard thinking, dad decides he believes him. Screenwriter Lewis Colick (October Sky) would habe us believe that it took Frank a sleepless evening to realize that — wait a minute — Danny has lied to everyone all these years, except him! Whew, what a relief! Now big, tan Frank can nose around and find out exactly what this bad new husband did.

Colick and veteran director Harold Becker (Sea of Love, Mercury Rising) slather these proceedings in a milky cover of barely believable happenings, clichéd dialogue, and absolutely no deviation from every sub-par ‘family thriller’ that looks just like this one. Case in point: When Danny makes a statement against his evil stepdad at the police station, the cops allow all parents (including his mean new pop) to be present, staring the kid down. What!? A blatant case of ignoring reality for the sake of some conflict — and minor conflict at that.

And Vaughn, who can be so creative and funny playing fruitcakes in movies like Made, Swingers, and even Psycho, just can’t get it done with this stuff. He doesn’t play sincerity well enough for us to believe that Teri Polo’s Susan would ever marry him, and he doesn’t play the scheming nutjob well enough for us to believe that he’s a real bad man. I wholly suggest a viewing of the off-kilter The Stepfather to see Terry O’Quinn really hit a home run with this sort of role.

Speaking of better movies from this genre, it’s worth mentioning Michael Apted’s 1984 thriller Firstborn, a cable favorite that covers the remarriage theme with a good deal more suspense and subtlety. Instead of being some wide-scale, moronic criminal, like Vaughn’s Rick, Peter Weller’s role is simply that of a coke-snorting sleazebag. The tension between he and the oldest son is truly palpable, unlike here, where nothing really feels too threatening between stepdad and stepson. Becker and Colick might have wanted to take it down a notch to add some realism, but that never happens.

Instead, we get a predictable, by-the-books, thriller that is treated like some kind of weak horror movie. Perhaps the film’s more of just an Annoying Disturbance — too deadened to really piss you off as a moviegoer. Call it what you will, but just avoid calling it out loud while standing at your local theater box office.

Should you find yourself so fascinated with Domestic Disturbance that you absolutely must rent or (God forbid) buy it on DVD, you’ll find the extras to be every bit as mediocre as the film itself. The deleted scenes clock in at about 4 minutes total (some are more like glipses than actual scenes), and Becker sounds so tired on his commentary track it seems like he could croak at any minute. Good thing he only has to talk for 80-some minutes.

One disturbed individual.