Review: 'Domestic Disturbance' disturbingly bad
By Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- John Travolta looks even more bored than usual in "Domestic Disturbance," an Evil Stepfather picture that's about as tense as a game of connect-the-dots, albeit one backed with a full orchestra. You need more than a slew of Hitchcockian gestures to draw an audience into something this convention-bound; viewers have to give a damn about the characters before they can concern themselves with any encroaching danger, and it doesn't hurt if the filmmakers toss in a few surprises.
Unfortunately, director Harold Becker and screenwriter Lewis Colick are a great deal less than inspired by the genre.
Travolta plays Frank Morrison, a gentle, divorced woodworker who builds sailboats for a living. As the story opens, Frank's life is in an uproar. His ex-wife, Susan (Teri Polo), is about to marry Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a wealthy philanthropist. Rick seems like an okay guy, but Frank and Terri's 12-year-old son, Danny (Matt O'Leary), despises him. Since Danny has been known to commit petty crimes to gain attention from his biological parents, no one gives his aversion to Rick much credence -- until Danny witnesses Rick committing a murder.
This comes as no great shock to the audience. Rick's secretive glares immediately peg him as a creep; you're fully expecting trouble 10 minutes after the credit sequence is over. But it takes a lot longer than 10 minutes for Vaughn to break out the ice pick, and the script isn't exactly brimming with nuances to keep you interested while he sharpens it.
Colick's characters are such explicit archetypes, there's no sense of mystery or danger. You just sit there waiting for bad things to happen to monotonous people. The movie's sole grace note is that you're occasionally moved to giggle at how mechanical it all is. Danny's swift, on-the-nose proof that Rick is two-faced is a particular highlight.
Rick is the kind of guy who can maintain a convincing facade of love and concern for weeks on end, only to drop it completely the minute his wife leaves him alone with the kid. In an ill-fated attempt to connect with his newly-acquired stepson, Rick plays a game of catch with Danny in the backyard. Things are going fine, until Danny makes a few errant throws. That's when Rick starts whipping the ball in like he's Randy Johnson on steroids. This is followed in short order by a round of verbal abuse, and Danny purposefully smashing a window with the ball. Boys -- Play nice!
Eventually, an absurd sequence of events allows Danny to witness the murder, after which he rightly comes running to Frank with the news. But Danny's a little troublemaker who cries wolf too often, and Rick is an honored townsman, so the police chief (Ruben Santiago Hudson, puffing and grumbling through a role that wouldn't look out of place on "Starsky & Hutch") immediately pooh-poohs the accusation. It's up to Frank to perform a surprisingly uncomplicated bit of research that uncovers Rick's shady background. Then it's, "Holy baloney! My son is living with a murderer!"
You know the rest.
The movie's promotional material contains some bunkum about Frank valiantly fighting for the love of his son, but you never feel that level of emotional connection. Travolta just rolls through the story on his way to a fat paycheck, and Vaughn rolls right along with him, on his way to a much slimmer one. Vaughn is a talented actor who has to periodically pimp himself to commercial concerns in order to maintain his employability, and they don't come much more commercial than this baby. Here's further proof that you can't make a good movie without a good script, no matter who's jumping through the lackadaisical narrative hoops. Keep your eye on next week's releases for further further proof.
"Domestic Disturbance" isn't very scary, although little Danny gets terrorized and roughed up a bit. There's also that ice pick to contend with, some bad language, and an effectively weasely cameo by Steve "Peter Lorre" Buscemi. Things don't turn out too well for Steve, but at least no one feeds him into a wood chipper.
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