Domestic Disturbance

You want to feel sorry for Danny Morrison (Matt O’Leary), a 12-year old going through the pangs of divorce. As if the divorce weren’t enough of a jolt, Danny’s situation goes from bad to worse when his mother remarries. Top that off with the realization that Danny’s new stepfather is actually a killer and you have the makings of a made-for-television melodrama.

Like Danny’s stepfather, the new film “Domestic Disturbance” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The film pretends to be a big screen thriller when in fact it’s nothing more than a rehashed Lifetime cable movie. Adding insult to injury, the film clocks in at an amazingly brief 89 minutes. Like it matters.

If you’ve seen the coming attractions for “Domestic Disturbance,” you’ve seen the film. The script is so thin and conspicuous that condensing it down to two minutes is actually doing the audience a favor.

It’s impossible to take anything in “Domestic Disturbance” seriously. No one acts in this film, they overact. Director Harold Becker, whose choice of projects remains spotty at best, doesn’t help. Instead of punching all the right buttons, he pounds on them with the ferocity of Barry Bonds.

You just wish the script by Lewis Colick had as much devotion. The script is an exercise in the obvious, a paint-by-numbers domestic thriller that never rises to the giddy level of Joseph Ruben’s “The Stepfather” starring Terry O’Quinn, a much more effective take on the new father syndrome.

Colick and Becker pump up the volume, perhaps hoping to disguise the fact that what they are making is essentially a waste of time. The set pieces are a little more extravagant than the run-of- the-mill cable movie, but they’re not enough to make up for bad acting, stilted direction and dialogue so bad you want to laugh.

Laughter is the furthest thing from young Danny’s mind. He’s having a hard time adjusting to his new family dynamic, so much so that he has started telling lies as a sign of rebellion. Nothing traumatic for a 12-year-old, except when he accuses new stepfather Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn)of being a killer.

You can’t blame Danny for rebelling. Compared to his father Frank (John Travolta), Rick is the anti-Christ. At first Frank is suspicious of Danny’s rant and raves, chalking it up to having a new stepfather and an overzealous imagination. Frank has his own reasons for not liking Rick, but they have nothing to do with his son’s cries of wolf.

Mother Susan (Teri Polo) isn’t much help. She’s the sort of woman who wouldn’t know evil if it stared her in the face, much less slept in the same bed. To Susan, Rick is a knight in shining armor, a successful businessman who can give her and Danny the sort of security (financial, not emotional) that Frank couldn’t.

Colick lugs out every tired cliche of the genre, piling it on so thick that even the actors have a hard time rising above it. Nuance and subtlety never enter the picture. The characters never talk to each other but at each other. There’s no emotional attachment between any of them. The actors constantly fail in their attempt to make us believe we’re watching a family unit being torn apart.

Travolta is okay as a flawed father who knows he can do better, but there’s very little for the actor to work with. Every line of dialogue is delivered with an apology, a red flag indicating that Travolta knows this is beneath his talents. After “Battlefield Earth” and “Swordfish,” “Domestic Disturbance” should have been a walk through the park for the actor. Instead, Travolta stumbles over every crack in the script.

Vaughn is intermittently effective as the bad guy, but the role is a no brainer. Vaughn is custom made for a character like Rick, a tall, striking and extremely moody man who isn’t what he seems. “Domestic Disturbance” might have been a better film had Travolta and Vaughn swapped roles. Travolta is always interesting playing villains (“Face/Off”), while it would have been refreshing for Vaughn to play the good guy.

As Danny, O’Leary finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place. O’Leary attempts to imbue Danny with enough youthful exuberance and angst to make his character more than the written word, but eventually succumbs to the simplicity of those very words.

Polo gets the short shrift as mother Susan, a one-dimensional plot device who gets buried under the mechanics of the script. Steve Buscemi also has little to do as an acquaintance of Rick’s whose untimely end sets into motion Danny’s cries for help.

Director Becker, who proved with “The Onion Field” and “Sea Of Love” he had a talent for blending riveting drama and taut suspense, fails to infuse “Domestic Disturbance” with either. He takes a pedestrian approach to the material, never allowing the situations or characters to take on a life of their own.


Good actors rummage through domestic dumpster


John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matt O’Leary, Steve Buscemi. Directed by Harold Becker. Rated PG-13. 89 Minutes.


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