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Domestic Disturbance

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Drama
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), 2.0 (English, French)
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English
Length: 89 min
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 04/16/2002
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Harold Becker
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical Trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes with optional commentary
Music Video: None
Other: Storyboards
Cast and Crew: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matthew O'Leary, Steve Buscemi
Screenplay by: Written by: Lewis Colick
Produced by: Donald de Line, Jonathan D. Krane
Directed By: Harold Becker
Music: Mark Mancina
The Review:

Stereotypical characters, convoluted logic, and an abundant absence of intelligence abide in "Domestic Disturbance," a thriller that wants to be naughty, but ends up playing nice. What begins as a somewhat interesting film tailspins into an unending chasm of unbelievable plot twists and aggravating characters who make all the wrong choices. Here is a movie that covers familiar ground, yet it fails to spark much interest once things go awry. ***

John Travolta stars as Frank Morrison, a boat builder whose ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo) is on the brink of remarrying. This, of course, is unacceptable to their 12-year-old son, Danny (Matthew O'Leary), whose outbursts against his parents' divorce have led to being picked up from the police station on numerous occasions. Like any good father, Frank advises Danny to accept that which he cannot change, and to give his new stepfather, the wealthy and popular Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a warm welcome. ***

Now anyone who knows their thrillers can guess that if there is money involved, then there's usually a tainted past here and there; this film is no exception. The wedding goes off without a hitch, despite the presence of Ray Coleman (Steve Buscemi), a former acquaintance of Rick's who is set on collecting a large sum of money from his old pal. One thing leads to another, contrivances appear, and Rick has a murder on his hands, unaware that Danny witnessed the deed from the backseat of the car in which it occurred. ***

This is the first in a series of several scenes that look promising, but hold little intensity or surprise. Judging from Danny's "Boy Who Cried Wolf" syndrome, it is easy to foresee that no one will believe him when he reveals what he saw, save for Frank, who must hold a grudge against his son's aggressor if there is to be any action or energy in the story. There's a little bit of cat-and-mouse going on, as Frank searches for the missing Ray and possible clues to take to the police, but it goes virtually nowhere. ***

The movie seems more interested in showing us just how stupid people can be in such situations, however unbelievable they may be. From the start, Susan stands by her man, defending him against Danny's accusations. Does it ever occur to her that when a strange event happens, Rick was out of the house at that same time? Does she ever stop to think about how her disbelief in her son's statements is affecting him, rather than the old song-and-dance about her marriage to Rick? Even the police are completely clueless, ignoring everything until the end when it hardly matters. ***

My big complaint with "Domestic Disturbance" is its editor, who has chopped the movie down to a mere 88 minutes, too short for a thriller and too long for a documentary on vengeful stepfathers. Paramount's advertising campaign for the film hit us with a slew of pre-release television commercials, as well as a lengthy and revealing theatrical trailer. There are scenes in both of these, one of which involves a car chase, the other involving a discussion between Rick and Frank in which Rick tries to buy him off. These and others glimpses are not even included in the final cut, and perhaps may have been more interesting than what we see here. ***

The climax is standard fodder, but it has the ability to generate more intensity than the rest of the film altogether. Travolta turns in a good performance, convincing us of his status as a loving father; Vaughn fails to generate a sense of menace, while Polo does little else except look completely clueless. For all its attributes (which are few), "Domestic Disturbance" adds nothing new to a worn out genre; its lack of lucid plot could be overlooked if not for its failure to generate any level of suspense. ***

Note: The film was shot on the eastern coast of North Carolina, in Southport, yet in one scene, Ray mentions his locating Rick was from a childhood memory of Rick's about a family vacation in Maryland. Your thoughts, Mr. McNally?

Image and Sound

Not a bad transfer to the DVD format. The images are clean, for the most part, though the darker scenes tend to exhibit some noise in the black regions. In other scenes, blacks are solid, fleshtones are accurate, and the overall quality is pleasing. The sound is mostly driven by dialogue and music, both of which adhere to their placement of center speaker and surrounds, respectively.

The Extras

I love movie studios. They always have a way of building up their movies by placing phrases like "critically acclaimed" and "edge-of-your-seat," when the movie is anything but. Such is the case with "Domestic Disturbance," a throw-away thriller that feels more like yesterday's recycled garbage disposal muck than a serviceable piece of entertainment. The DVD doesn't do much to enhance the experience, either: the commentary with Harold Becker is choppy and meanders without focus, while the deleted scenes are as dry and tasteless as the movie itself (on a further note, where are the deleted scenes that made it into the previews and not into the movie?). Even the storyboards are lacking: where so many DVDs give us the storyboard AND the actual scene at once, this one is merely pictures.

Commentary Not much of a commentary. Harold Becker talks about one thing after another without connecting much of what he says, and there are long stretches of movie where nothing is said at all.
Final Words: For lovers of prechewed thrillers only.

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May 22, 2002