Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Does John Travolta just choose which films to accept at random? It sure seems that way, though I suppose picking projects out of a hat should actually result in more successes than he’s experience of late. A look down his résumé for the last five years or so shows an unrelenting string of dogs.
Add to that list 2001’s Domestic Disturbance. The flick flopped at the box office, and for good reason. It offers a trite and predictable thriller that fails to achieve anything distinctive.
In Disturbance, we meet Frank Morrison (Travolta) and his family. They’re a disjointed group, for he and ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo) split some time ago. Though apart, they continue to care for 12-year-old son Danny (Matthew O’Leary) well, and they maintain an amicable relationship.
Susan plans to marry Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a relative newcomer to their peaceful community along the Maryland shore. A tycoon, he’s made a big name for himself during his few months in Southport, as he’s become the town’s darling. He seems like the perfect guy, but Danny resists his charms.
Frank doesn’t seem wild about Rick either, but to better facilitate the varying relationships, he goes along with Susan’s idea that he should buddy up with Rick; Danny takes his cues from his dad, so this might make him more receptive to Rick’s presence.
The idea seems to work, but after the wedding, Rick’s dark side starts to emerge. He becomes distracted at his own wedding when mysterious Ray Coleman (Steve Buscemi) appears, and as Rick and Danny play catch, he demonstrates a nasty temper.
After another blowup with Mom and stepdad, Danny hides away in Rick’s truck to try to get to Frank’s place. They take a detour when Rick stops to meet with Ray. They drive off and Rick soon stabs Ray to death. Danny witnesses this, of course, and tries to tell the authorities. However, no one believes him - no one except Frank, that is.
From there, the film follows Frank’s attempts to protect his son and deal with Rick. Of course, Rick eliminates all evidence of the crime, and chronic liar Danny even recants at one point. However, Frank maintains that his son told the truth, which is accurate; Rick threatened Danny enough to make the boy retract his statement.
It’s not difficult to see where Disturbance will go with all of this, and the film doesn’t offer a very entertaining or exciting journey. We’ve seen this kind of material a million times in the past, and nothing accomplished here makes the tale lively or fresh. Instead, it just feels like more of the same old thing.
Disturbance suffers from the excessive clarity given to its characters. These folks don’t operate in a world of grays; they’re either good or bad, with little in between those concepts. Sure, Danny’s a liar and a runaway, but he’s a troubled kid who seems loving, smart and caring at heart. Susan also makes some misjudgments, but never do we believe that she cares about anything other than Danny’s best interests.
Still, at least those two show some nuances. Frank and Rick are cartoon characters. Vaughn seems to still think he’s in the 1998 remake of Psycho; he plays Rick as such a twitchy nutbag that it’s tough to believe he warmed up the townsfolk.
As for Frank, Travolta does nothing terribly wrong with the role, though he brings little spark to it. Unfortunately, the problems stem from the script, which paints Frank as such a true blue hero. I guess it’s easy to see why Travolta would take this kind of part, since Frank’s such a great guy. However, he lacks any depth or spirit outside of self-righteous indignation.
Disturbance might work better had it possessed some actual suspense. For example, the story would have benefited if they didn’t betray so quickly that Rick was evil. Had the tale possessed some ambiguity in that regard, it could have been more intriguing. However, since we knew so much about Rick, the film contained no suspense; everything that occurred was an absolute foregone conclusion.
Frankly, Domestic Disturbance felt like a TV movie. It suffered from a predictable story, flat characters and nothing to make it stand out from the crowd. While competently executed, Disturbance failed to make an impact on me.