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DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE(director: Harold Becker; screenwriters: story by Lewis Colick/William S. Connor/Gary Drucker; cinematographer: Michael Seresin; editor: Peter Honess; music: Mark Mancina; cast: John Travolta (Frank Morrison), Vince Vaughn (Rick Barnes), Teri Polo (Danny’s Mom, Susan), Matthew O’Leary (Danny), Steve Buscemi (Ray Coleman), Susan Floyd (Diane), Chris Ellis (Detective Warren), Nick Loren (Officer Foxx), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Sgt. Stevens); Runtime: 90; Paramount Films; 2001)
“Isn’t it about time Travolta landed in a good film?”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This evil stepfather thriller wasn’t bad, it was terrible. The acting was lame, the script was awful, the plot line was obvious, and the senseless conclusion was filled with no suspense. This stale by the numbers illogical venture in bad filmmaking by veteran Hollywood director Harold Becker (“Sea of Love“), is always flat and never believable. It got everything wrong about how to make this kind of a genre film.

The story is set in the touristy coastal small-town of Southport, Maryland (but filmed in Wilmington, N.C.), where Frank Morrison is a struggling builder of wooden boats (the yuppies are buying plastic boats these days!). He’s a decent guy because he is seen giving his last customer a fair rate on a marvelous boat he just built, he orders a regular guy’s meal of a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke for lunch, and he is a caring father to his 12-year-old son Danny. The only problem is that Frank’s divorced from his wife Susan because of his past drinking problem, and she’s getting married to the new wealthy hotshot in town who moved here two years ago, the pillar of the community, Rick Barnes. The troubled Danny doesn’t like his new father and acts hostile toward him, even a simple game of baseball catch turns into a big problem. The kid wants his parents to do the impossible and get together again, and the way he gets a reaction from them is by running away, becoming truant, and lying to everyone but his real father. Frank has a girlfriend Diane that is so boring and sexless, that it is easy to forget that she’s there even when she’s there. I tell you Frank might know how to build boats, but he can’t pick women. His ex-wife is just as dull as his new girlfriend.

The kid is displeased to learn that his newly married mom is already pregnant with Rick’s baby, and therefore sneaks into the back of Rick’s SUV planning to go over to his dad’s place and tell him the bad news. But when this seedy looking man, Ray Coleman, gets into the SUV when leaving the Shady Tree Motel, which is just outside of town, the kid overhears their conversation about how Rick despises him as someone else’s brat and is giving Ray bribe money to get out of town and not rat him out. When they stop at an isolated spot, the kid sees Rick stab him to death and incinerate his body in a brick factory oven. When the kid tells his dad, who phones the police, no one believes him because of his past lies.

The film completely breaks down in logic when we see how Rick confronts the kid at home by towering over him and resorts to threatening him, and how the only one in town who is concerned about the kid’s safety is Frank. The courts, police, and his mom ignore the danger signals. Frank resorts to some amateur detective work via the yellow pages, the sport channels and the Internet to dig up the criminal past of his nemesis.

In this conventional tale Frank’s girlfriend exits when he becomes too involved with his son, and Danny’s mom will reluctantly come to her senses to restore this nuclear family when she gets hit over the head by her new hubby just before the final credits are rolled up. There were a number of unbelievable confrontations leading up to where Rick has a final showdown with Frank. But the heavy gets his comeuppance and everyone lives happily ever after.

Domestic Disturbance results in an awkward, forgettable, plodding, and weakly done melodrama. It was directed with a false sense of competence. Travolta and Vaughn went through the motions of acting. Isn’t it about time Travolta landed in a good film?


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”