Mark Reviews Movies

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Harold Becker

Cast: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matthew O'Leary, Steve Buscemi, Chris Ellis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, brief sexuality and language)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 11/2/01


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Review by Mark Dujsik

The domestic thriller is a rather overlooked genre. When you think about it, there are a lot of them out there. Domestic Disturbance is a typical and quite disjointed example. For all the direct plotting of the screenplay, there also seems to be a lot missing. Then to top it all off, we have characters whose motivations are slightly off-kilter and who lack common sense. It also marks another poor choice for John Travolta, who is a very good actor and an oft-wasted talent. If there was ever time for another of his famous comebacks, it is now. Here, his presence is worth something, but the movie just hits one predictable plot point after another until its rather sudden conclusion.

Travolta plays Frank Morrison, a man who builds wooden boats for a living. He is divorced from his wife Susan (Teri Polo), who is getting ready to marry the rich and extremely popular Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a relatively new face to the small town. The Morrisons’ fractured homelife has been the impetus for their son Danny’s (Matthew O’Leary) delinquent behavior. At the nuptials, a mysterious man named Ray Coleman (Steve Buscemi) arrives, claiming to be an old schoolmate of Rick’s. Rick seems mighty unhappy that Ray has made an appearance in town, and when Rick tells Frank that he and Ray are old business acquaintances, Frank begins to suspect his ex-wife’s new husband. His suspicions prove correct. Rick meets with Ray occasionally, and we learn from the meetings that Rick’s past is less than perfect. One night, Danny learns prematurely that Susan is pregnant, and he hides in Rick’s car. Unfortunately, Rick has decided that Ray has worn out his welcome.

One of my big pet peeves in movies is when characters exist for the sole purpose of the plot. In Domestic Disturbance, there is not a single moment that doesn’t involve the advancement of the plot. The characters do stupid things just to make another character’s appearance possible. For example, Rick knows Danny saw him taking care of Ray, so Danny obviously fears Rick coming into his room at night. Danny keeps his eyes on the door to his bedroom as Rick tries to come in, but the door is locked. Danny keeps his eye on that door, apparently forgetting that there are two ways into his bedroom, allowing Rick entrance for a late-night threat. I could accept this as a flaw in Danny, except that the movie later has him placing his shoes next to a door to make the shadows look as though he is standing behind it. Too smart a move for someone who forgets he has two doors into his own room.

Other awkward plot points include a random man who steps in when Frank tries to take Danny home from school, only to be punched by Frank. Who this character is and why he suddenly decides to show up is unknown. I can only assume it is to add false conflict to a moment where real conflict should be. A custody battle simply exists to make Frank wonder if his son lied to him, to keep Danny in the house, and to show that Rick has leverage over the situation. Common sense would dictate that Danny simply tell his father or the police that he will not stay in the house where a murderer lives, but that would help bring the plot to a quick close. Not that it doesn’t end quickly enough. The resolution of the conspiracy depends on a single character going on the Internet to find an old newspaper article, and while we know the climax is approaching, it seems rushed. I was thankful the ending came quickly, but I also felt cheated.

The biggest flaw, though, is that these characters do not seem invested in the scenario. Note I did not say the actors. These characters do not seem to understand what even the possibility of a murderer living within this family could mean. This is a serious situation, but the characters hardly care. As I sat watching Domestic Disturbance, unable to stay involved in the occurrences onscreen, I began wondering how in the world this movie (which contains a young boy witnessing a murder, constantly being threatened or put in jeopardy, an electrocution, and a woman beaten to the point of miscarriage) received a PG-13 rating simply because it has little blood, no sex, and only one use of the "f" word. Why do we need the MPAA again?

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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