Domestic Disturbance

2001, Movie, PG-13, 89 mins

Review

DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE
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This formulaic thriller pits a divorced super-dad and his adolescent son against the wickedest stepparent since Cinderella's monster mom. Frank Morrison (John Travolta) is a meticulous wooden-boat builder whose craftsman's integrity and overly generous business practices are driving him into the poorhouse. Frank, a recovering alcoholic, is divorced from Susan (Teri Polo), but both continue to live in bucolic Southport, MD, and informally share custody of their difficult 12-year-old, Jason (James Lashly). A sullen youngster given to lying, running away and general hell raising, Jason takes an instant dislike to mom's new boyfriend, wealthy, popular, new glad hander-in-town Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn). Susan, who plans to marry Rick, enlists Frank's reluctant aid in helping Jason accept his stepfather-to-be, and everything seems peachy until the day of the lavish nuptials. Frank notices Rick giving the gimlet eye to a shady-looking party-crasher, who reluctantly identifies himself as Ray (Steve Buscemi, the google-eyed corpse at the wedding), an old friend of the groom. Ray and Rick, we learn, were once involved in some crooked business; Rick escaped prosecution and walked away with the money while Ray went to jail. Ray thinks he's owed some financial compensation, which Rick promises to secure, stashing Ray in a no-tell motel called the Shady Tree while he rounds up the loot. Meanwhile, Jason decides that his first impression of Rick was right, and that this blended family stuff is for the birds. The last straw comes when he learns that his mother is pregnant: Jason sneaks out and hides in Rick's SUV, hoping to get in town and go to his dad's place. But Rick isn't going to town. He's cruising out to the Shady Tree to pick up Ray, whom he cold-bloodedly murders while Jason watches, terrified, from the floor of the back seat. At first, no-one believes Jason except the scarier-by-the-minute Rick, but Frank comes around and goes to bat for his boy. Since we know from the outset that Rick is an unrepentent murderer and Frank would walk through fire for Jason, there's not much suspense as to how things will turn out. Screenwriter Lewis Colick's solution to delivering the baddie his richly deserved comeuppance without morally tarnishing the good guy is as clever as it is craven, and the film's subtexts are profoundly reactionary. Women are foolish and untrustworthy — Susan marries a smiling murderer and Frank's new girlfriend (Rebecca Tinley) bails the minute the going gets rough — and only a bad mother remarries. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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