Pop psychology

Movie: Domestic Disturbance

Our Rating: 2.50

"Domestic Disturbance" is a movie most dads would be happy to stumble across while channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon when the Big Game is rained out. Poor-but-honest boat builder Frank Morrison (John Travolta) is the only line of defense between his 12-year-old son, Danny (Matthew O'Leary), and Danny's new stepdad, Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn) -- a wealthy but mysterious philanthropist whose swift rise to prominence in their coastal Maryland community masks a shady personal history and a propensity for violence.

No one but Frank pays much heed to Danny's warnings that Rick is one rotten apple. Danny's mom (Teri Polo), Frank's new girlfriend (Susan Lloyd) and the local police alike all write the boy's protests off as the fanciful product of adolescent resentment. It's up to Frank (who notes with pride that his son has never lied to him) to save Danny and expose Rick for the sociopath he is. To do it, he will rely heavily on the bad-movie truism that a simple man can and will perform better detective work than the actual authorities.

("Damn right!" dear old Pop mutters in assent as he puts down the remote, roots about in the cooler at his feet for a fresh Coors Light and wonders what in the hell his own kids are up to these days.)

If "The Deep End of the Ocean" was an appeal to the maternal psyche only a marketing executive could love, then "Domestic Disturbance" is its X-chromosome twin. When Rick impugns the job Frank has done in teaching the boy how to throw a baseball, we know it's war. The female characters are either cowards (as in the case of Frank's girlfriend, who vanishes from his life -- and the movie -- as soon as the going gets tough) or oblivious (Danny's mom, whose decision to marry a walking question mark represents the height of her decision-making powers). No wonder Frank appears much more worried that a maniac is living with his son than with his ex-wife.

Then again, what these characters believe and how they behave is totally determined by the lazy script's needs of the moment. With a template this tossed-off, it's a major relief that each actor has been enlisted to do what he does best. Travolta is the Less-Than-Perfect Guy We Still Like (his Frank, we learn, is a recovering alcoholic), and Vaughn can do creepy in his sleep. Steve Buscemi revisits his "Fargo" days as Ray Coleman, an old crony of Rick's who arrives in picturesque, sea-sprayed Southport, Md., and quickly begins indulging his penchant for hookers and televised basketball games.

"You know what I'm noticing?" he comments. "I haven't seen one adult bookstore in this town."

Wonder what Father's Day was like around his house.

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