The real “disturbance” in “Domestic Disturbance” is not in the home, but in the careers of all involved. Luckily for the talent, this thriller-in-name-only likely won’t cause a lasting enough a ripple in the collective consciousness to cause much lasting damage, but it certainly a credit one would be wise to leave off of their résumés.
The one person most likely to not heed that advice considering some of the really unspeakable dreck he’s actually proud to include on his filmography (read: Battlefield Earth) is toplining star John Travolta. Here he blandly plays Frank Morrison, a nice guy boat builder whose ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo) marries hotshot businessman Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn, doing a retread of his unconvincing take on Norman Bates). Of course, being so young, attractive, and successful, something has to be off about Rick–and that’s indeed what Frank and Susan’s rebellious son Danny (Matt O’Leary) discovers one fateful night when he witnesses his new stepdad kill a former “business associate” in cold blood.
“He will do anything to protect his family,” is the straightforward tagline for the film, and that also appears to be basic guideline according to which Harold Becker’s film was hacked down to a sub-90-minute run time. All trace of subtlety or grace is absent as the film leadenly hits all the expected thriller beats at an exceedingly rushed pace: Frank and Danny don’t like Rick; Rick wins them over; Danny finds out about Rick, but no one except the impossibly honorable Frank believes him; etc. The most major of the offenses committed by Becker and scripter Lewis Colick is their absolute failure to generate any suspense. Rick’s evil nature is made so obvious from the get-go, and in laughably overwrought ways, such as a scene where Danny makes Rick’s blood boil… by not playing catch properly.
With the poor plotting accompanied by phoned-in performances and very noticeable, PG-13-mandated overdubbing of naughty words, laughable situations are not in short supply in “Domestic Disturbance.” The fact that these situations are commonplace in thrillers doesn’t make it any less ridiculous or any more forgivable. When the bad guy suddenly materializes in dark rooms as a shock chord blares on the soundtrack, or he somehow appears downstairs faster than anyone else despite suffering a pretty serious head injury (that leaves a wound on the opposite side of his head), there’s no way to react but by howling in disbelief. Actually, make that “resignation,” for awful formula efforts like “Domestic Disturbance” make the depths to which mainstream movies are so eager to sink all too easy to believe.