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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Movie Scene
'Domestic Disturbance' drags down Travolta

By Christy Lemire
AP Entertainment Writer

"Domestic Disturbance," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for violence, brief sexuality and language. Running time: 91 minutes.

John Travolta has made some — let's be polite and call them questionable — choices in roles in the past year or so.

Anyone who's seen "Swordfish," "Lucky Numbers" or "Battlefield Earth" — the last one making pretty much every list of the 10 worst movies of last year, if not all time — can agree on that.

But Travolta made a better choice with "Domestic Disturbance," and he's good in it — at least for the first half, until the entire movie turns ridiculous and drags him along with it.

Unlike the sneering, scheming characters he played in those earlier bombs, Travolta stars as a guy in the middle of his life who's sad and lonely, and he does it seemingly effortlessly.

Frank Morrison regrets the mistakes he made as a husband, as a father. He's not terribly successful in his business, carrying on the family tradition of building wooden boats; there's not much demand for them anymore, with plastic boats being cheaper.

But he gets along with his ex-wife, Susan (Teri Polo), and remains close to their 12-year-old son, Danny (Matt O'Leary). And when Susan gets remarried to Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a rich newcomer to the small, coastal Maryland town where they live, he tries to be supportive. He even attends their gala backyard wedding with his girlfriend (Susan Floyd).

For the first half of the movie, Lewis Colick's screenplay accurately captures the kind of pain and awkwardness families go through as they break apart and take new forms.

But then an old friend of Rick's named Ray (Steve Buscemi) comes to town who's a little shady and has a sketchy connection to Rick's past.

Danny starts seeing Rick's aggressive, abusive side when no one else is around, and tries to tell his parents about it, but they don't believe him because he's lied and gotten into trouble in the past.

So when Danny tells his parents he saw Rick kill Ray and incinerate his body at the brick factory he owns, naturally, his parents think he's making it up.

Susan can't believe her new husband would do anything like that, and neither would anyone else in town; the locals worship him, honoring him as man of the year for his philanthropy — and he's only lived there for two years!

But Frank realizes — too soon, really — that Danny wouldn't lie to him, and he sets out to prove that Rick is a killer. Too bad Frank is far less interesting as an amateur detective than he was as a professional boat maker.

Once the murder allegations surface, longtime thriller director Harold Becker ("The Onion Field," "Malice") turns "Domestic Disturbance" into just another cat-and-mouse chase. The anticlimactic showdown is a fistfight that just happens to take place in a garage where there's a minor arsenal of makeshift weapons, including a shovel, a crow bar and a bar stool.

Despite Vaughn's height and his ability to cast an intimidating, half-crazed stare, he would have been a more formidable villain if his character had been fleshed out better. We know Rick was indicted for a crime involving Ray and two other guys in Chicago, and he got off and ran away with a bunch of money. But we don't really know what the crime was, or anything else about his hidden past.

That's a problem, because believing this guy is evil is crucial to believing the movie's premise.

Buscemi is such a talented character actor, he makes movies better just by showing up. But aside from a few darkly funny lines, he doesn't have a lot to work with here.

A disturbance the two actors were involved in off-screen is more interesting than the movie itself. While filming in Wilmington, N.C., Vaughn and Buscemi got into a barroom brawl with some of the locals. Buscemi was stabbed in the throat, head and arm, but recovered. Vaughn and a couple of other guys ended up in jail on misdemeanor assault charges.