Domestic Disturbance

The stereotype of the evil stepfather/stepmother has existed for hundreds of years, fueling countless fairy tales and more than a few films, including some Disney classics. Domestic Disturbance is a rather generic and vacant example of the genre that is notable only for two things: its economical running time that will allow you to beat the crowds to your favorite restaurant, and the opportunity it affords for John Travolta to make Career Comeback Number Two. On the heels of Battlefield Earth, Lucky Numbers, and Swordfish, this one is bad enough to get him banished to TV-movie or straight-to-video territory for some time.

Laughable yet grating in its illogical earnestness, the film manages to employ every standard wrinkle in both the "evil stepfather" and "lone man against a disbelieving world" plots, and does so without any trace of style whatsoever. Frank Morrison (Travolta) is a benevolent builder of wooden boats in a sleepy coastal town. He shares custody of his son Danny (Matthew O’Leary) with his ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo, Meet The Parents). Danny and his Mom are living with her new fiance Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a personable yet mysterious character who blew into town a couple years ago and has charmed everyone with his Cheshire grin and fat bank account. Naturally, Rick is not who he seems.At his wedding to Susan, Rick’s old "business acquaintance" Ray shows up. Naturally, he’s a low-life (played by Steve Buscemi, of course). Apparently there are enough skeletons in Rick’s closet to populate several dozen Calvin Klein ads, and Ray is in town to collect some hush money. Rather than pay up, Rick eliminates Ray with Danny witnessing the heinous act from a hiding place.

Frank’s the only one who believes Danny’s story, and the local police force can’t be bothered to check things any further than asking a few questions.Frank takes the case as a personal quest, becoming his own full-time gumshoe. Audience members will be able to amuse themselves by predicting most so-called plot twists far in advance. Along the way, laws of physics and nature are conveniently ignored. Someone stabbed in the back without bleeding a drop and a wooden boat exploding in a giant fireball are just two of the absurdities trotted out by director Harold Becker (Sea of Love) and screenwriter William S. Comanor. Characters appear and vanish for no reason other than to satisfy immediate plot point prerequisites. The "you can find ANYTHING on the Internet – and in less than five minutes" ploy is thrown in as well.

Everyone in the cast manages to keep a straight face through such proceedings, probably the most admirable aspect of their performances.As Frank, Travolta displays about as much emotion as someone stumped by 21 Down in the Sunday New York Times’ crossword puzzle. Vaughn and Polo bring absolutely no chemistry whatsoever to their relationship, so their marriage seems as believable as a tap-dancing platypus.As always, Buscemi is good, but doesn’t get enough time on screen to make much of an impact.

In the end the bad guy is, of course, vanquished – you’ll be able to foresee exactly how about five minutes before it happens – even though by that point most people will have given up caring very much. Domestic Disturbance is a small and fuzzy blip in an already very bad film year, as nondescript and uninvolving as its title.

– Bob Aulert

poster from MovieGoods