Domestic Disturbance
review by Gregory Avery, 2 November 2001

What exactly is John Travolta protecting his family from in Domestic Disturbance? After the opening half-hour, this becomes more and more unclear, and the characters aren't the only ones in the dark. Some serious fiddling appears to have been done with the film in order to create some basis for concern, but the results are, to say the least, worse than devastating.

Travolta plays Frank, a divorced father who must decide if his twelve-year-old son Danny (Matt O'Leary) is telling the truth when he says that his new stepfather, Rick (Vince Vaughn), is a menace. Frank is shown as being willing to go a long way towards bridging the gap, or any potential thereof,  between himself and Rick for Danny's sake. For his part, Rick seems to be trying to put whatever was in his past behind him and make a clean start, first with his marriage (to Frank's ex-wife, played by the talented Teri Polo), then by becoming a model businessman in the small community where they all live, even taking out a huge contract with Frank's boat-building company (even though you're not entirely too sure how Rick makes a living or where he gets his money from). Then, along comes an old associate of Rick's, who starts hanging about the place and making oblique references to something being owed him. (In case we have any doubts as to his character, Steve Buscemi has been cast in the part.)

Rick ends up going so far as to dispose of his old crony altogether, tossing him into a brick kiln.  Danny sees the whole thing, but the police dismiss the boy's story because the kid has continually gotten into trouble with local authorities in the past, even before his mother married Rick, thus marring Danny's credibility. Why, then, would Rick suddenly turn his murderous attentions towards Danny and, later, Danny's father? Since the police don't believe a murder was ever committed in the first place, the obvious move would be to play-it-normal and be inconspicuous. Instead, Rick starts torching buildings and chasing after people with a crowbar.

Is Rick tainted by his past, or is he just culpable? If he's got anything further to hide, we never find out about it. After a methodical set-up, parts of the rest of the film feel like they've been dropped, or yanked, from view. There's a cigarette lighter that figures in the second part of the story, but its significance is never explained. In one scene, Frank strikes, and then apologizes to, a character whom we're supposed to know by name but who hasn't been previously introduced into the narrative. The movie loses its plausibility faster than sand running through a sieve: by the time it's over, it's more like a phantom limb, something in place of where a movie used to be.

Poor Vince Vaughn has never entirely recovered from playing a rangy, country-western version of Norman Bates in the 1998 version of Psycho. (It was an interesting approach, but, still....) John Travolta, on the other hand, looks like a million bucks: he may be our last real movie star, but this picture, like the earlier Swordfish, is small potatoes stuff, and he's coasting. Hopefully, we'll once again have a chance to see him in something which will fully engage his abilities as both an actor and a star.

Directed by:
Harold Becker

Starring:
John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matt O'Leary and Steve Buscemi.

Written by:
Lewis Colick
William S. Comanor
Gary Drucker.

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13..

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