Just as "The Glass House
" was a "guardians-from-hell" picture, "Domestic Disturbance" is a "stepfather-from-hell" suspenser. Both recent films follow the same basic outline of all "fill-in-the-blank-from-hell" movies, are predictable, and aren't exactly sterling examples of original filmmaking. Still, there is a place for this genre, and "Domestic Disturbance," directed by Harold Becker (1998's "Mercury Rising"), is a serviceably entertaining, if formulaic, thriller.
Frank Morrison (John Travolta) is a Maryland boatbuilder who has such a close relationship with his 12-year-old son, Danny (Matthew O'Leary), and ex-wife, Susan (Teri Polo), that he even attends her wedding to the well-respected, well-off Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn). Just as the upset Danny agrees with his father to give Rick a chance, a set of sticky circumstances leaves him the only witness to the cold-blooded murder and subsequent cremation of the shady Ray Coleman (Steve Buscemi), whom Rick owed money to. Danny, known for often crying wolf just to get his way, is distraught to find that no one believes him about Rick. No one, that is, but Frank, who progressively becomes obsessed in finding out the truth and protecting his son and ex-wife from a man who could very well be a monster.
"Domestic Disturbance" never strays far from the beaten path of thriller cliches, but it is an involving motion picture helped along by some strong performances and workmanlike plot developments that are fun even when they can be easily telegraphed, in advance. At a crisp 88 minutes, the film seems to intentionally be over before your senses set in and you start thinking about its downfalls.
In the best showcase he's had in a few years, the role of Frank is certainly not a challenging one for John Travolta (2000's "Battlefield Earth
"), but it is a good one. Especially refreshing is having Travolta play the hero again after a series of bad guy parts, because he always seems like such a good-natured, warm fellow. This attribute shines brightly through here. As his nemesis, Rick, Vince Vaughn (2000's "The Cell
") makes for a chillingly menacing presence, the kind of man you wouldn't want to get stuck at home with alone.
In his feature film debut, Matthew O'Leary is surprisingly captivating as pre-teen Danny, ably holding his own with the veterans in the cast. Teri Polo (2000's "Meet the Parents
") gets some strong scenes as Susan, turning her into a realistically caring mother who, nonetheless, fails to see the danger hanging right under her nose. Steve Buscemi (2001's "Ghost World
") has a small, but memorable, part as the ill-fated Ray Coleman, the kind of token slimeball he plays so well. Finally, a pair of supporting turns also stand out from Angelica Torn (1999's "The Sixth Sense
"), as a prostitute whom Frank seeks help in, and Susan Floyd (1999's "Random Hearts
"), as Frank's new girlfriend.
Screenwriters William S. Comaner and Lewis Colick (1999's "October Sky
") successfully ratchet up the tension, despite serious lapses in intelligence and character logic. One scene, in which Danny says all the wrong things in court just to protect his dad, is downright maddening, while the reasoning of how Danny sees Rick murdering a man is far-fetched. Meanwhile, the obligatory climactic fight scene is about as exciting as these things get, and it even gets a little scary, too.
"Domestic Disturbance" is a hackneyed, by-the-numbers thriller that has no right to work, but it does. The film is never less than well made, and you get a chance to care enough about the characters so that it actually means something when they are placed in jeopardy. For all its rough edges, "Domestic Disturbance" is the type of widely accessible studio film that could put Travolta on the big-time map again after some recent pitfalls, and he deserves it.
©2001 by Dustin Putman