Sometimes, I have no patience for art films. Which is not
to say I don’t like them… quite the contrary, actually.
Like all my fellow critics, I’ve been known to tuck into
a good three-hour Yugoslavian epic dealing with the love
between to yak farmers. There is definately a time and a
place for such a film. But there are times when “lobster
and caviar” films such as that just don’t sound appealing.
After a long day, when you’re tired and irritable, you want
a big, greasy Steak-Ummms sandwich of a movie that will
fill you up, leave you satisfied and not challenge your
already taxed brain in any way. The new Travolta vehicle
DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is such a beast.
The plot is not what anyone with a basic knowledge of cinema
would call original. Young Danny (O’Leary) has a new stepfather,
Rick (Vaughn), that everyone in his sleepy New England town
loves. Danny hates him, not just because he’s the new guy
in Mom’s life, but also because, as it turns out, he’s a
killer. No one belives him when he goes to the police, save
for his father, Frank (Travolta), who knows that Danny would
never lie to him. So Frank turns from your basic boat-builder
into The Avenging Dad, trying madly to prove Rick’s guilt
before anyone else gets killed. There are at least a baker’s
dozen TV movies out there with similar plots, not to mention
the ’80s horror flick, THE STEPFATHER, but all of that is
neither here nor there. It’s an old plot done well and that’s
all that matters.
The thing that drives the movie are the performances, particularly
John Travolta’s. Travolta, finally deciding to stop his
career suicide, plays Frank exactly right. He puts off such
a strong “Dad vibe” and is just so gosh-darn likeable in
this, it makes it almost possible to forgive the guy for
BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Almost. The thing that has made Travolta
such a joke lately is his penchant for taking roles that
require him to chew scenery like a crazed badger. Sure,
he was fun in FACE/OFF, but seeing him in movie after movie,
playing the same megalomaniacal baddie flailing about on
screen… well, it’s just tiring. In DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE,
Travolta makes to wise decision to tone it down a few notches.
Playing Frank, he comes across as just your basic schlub
of a guy. He builds boats, misses his kid, drinks Diet Coke
and stands around being particularly un-athletic, hey, just
like MY father. In the whole movie, including the big showdown
at the end, Frank never does anything that could be considered
out of character for a Dad just trying to protect his son.
So often in movies like this, the “average” guy/hero will
suddenly know how to, say, operate a Howitzer or be able
to take on eight terrorists using only his wits and a bit
of string. All of the amateur detective work done by Frank,
the fight at the end, everything feels natural and for that,
I applaud the writers and Travolta, himself.
By that same token, Vince Vaughn’s character, Rick, seems
to have actual motivations for his actions, as opposed to
being a ruthless killer for the hell of it. My only real
complaint is that Vaughn is almost TOO good at being scary,
making even Rick’s nice-guy mode seem menacing. However,
Vaughn is clearly having fun with the bad guy role, and
he’s definately fun to watch. It was a good call on his
part to go low-key with the character because, as Travolta
could tell him, over-acting would have killed the part.
Mathew O’Leary is also quite good as the son, though not
a whole lot is required of him. Still, he manages to hold
his own quite nicely with Travolta and Vaughn. Teri Polo
as the mom, on the other hand, pretty much gets blown off
the screen, though it’s really not her fault. She does what
she can, but her character is basically there to drive the
action and nothing more. It’s a shame really, because she’s
been so good in other things like MEET THE PARENTS and the
TV show “Sports Night.”
So, yeah, maybe DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE isn’t the weightiest
film ever made. But for a movie that’s aiming squarely for
the middle of the road, it does a nice job of avoiding tedium
and will give you a nice hour and a half at the theater.