DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, directed by Harold Becker (MERCURY RISING), is an
efficient thriller starring a sincere John Travolta as a long suffering and
supportive father named Frank Morrison and an increasingly creepy Vince
Vaughn as an evil stepfather named Rick Barnes. The rest of the cast in
this formula child-in-danger film is serviceable enough.
A variation on the old story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the plot concerns
Danny Morrison (Matthew O'Leary), a boy about to get an unwanted new dad
when his mother, Susan (Teri Polo), marries Rick. With a history of lying
to the police, Danny isn't believed when he tells them a macabre tale
involving his new stepfather and a mysterious stranger, played by Steve
Using all of the standard tricks -- Cue the thunder! Hide behind the door.
Cut the phone lines. -- the director gets in too much of a hurry. Key
motivational scenes are needlessly rushed while schlock fright techniques
push all of the usual buttons to get the audience to jump. And jump they
do. One tiny, brief threat, for example, causes an unbelievable and rapid
transformation in one character's actions. A minute more, and we might have
bought his response. The script also relies on way too many coincidences to
glue the rickety plot together.
And yet, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, which could be quite disturbing to
impressionable kids under thirteen, frequently does exactly what it sets out
to do, which is to frighten us and to draw us into the mystery. Travolta
and Vaughn, although they play characters like so many that they've played
before, are still terrific at it. You root for Frank and want Rick to get
caught. The ending is satisfying on a gut level until you realize how often
you've seen it all before. If the projector dies ten minutes before the
conclusion, you'll be able to correctly guess how it all gets resolved. On
the other hand, if that happens, you could easily think of something more
original. You wouldn't have to worry that something different might not do
well on a test screen.
DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE runs 1:30. It is rated PG-13 for "violence, brief
sexuality and language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes