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Paramount Studios
Official Site
Director: Harold Becker
Producers: Harold Becker, Donald De Line, Jonathan D. Krane
Written by: Lewis Colick
Cast: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Mathew O’Leary, Teri Polo, Steve Buscemi
Rating: out of 5

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.

—Clint DAVIS


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