As routine as they come, "Domestic Disturbance" (IMDb listing) has far too much in its corner to allow it to fail. Two magnificent actors (John Travolta and Vince Vaughn), a spotty, but reliable director (Harold Becker, "Malice" and "Sea Of Love") and a wonderful premise that holds great promise for thrills, chills and serious audience participation. Yet somewhere along the line there was a decision to take out huge sections of the story and neuter the film down from an R rating to a PG-13. Such a shame. "Domestic Disturbance" isn't classy, but it does have flashes of a rip-roaring thriller that were there at one point in the film's development and aren't there now.
As his ex-wife (Teri Polo) prepares to marry a man named Rick (Vince Vaughn), who is a pillar of the community, Frank Morrison (John Travolta) tries to calm his troubled son Danny (Matthew O'Leary) as their lives go through a slight change with the new addition. One night, Danny stows away in Rick's car and witnesses Rick murdering another man. When he gives the news to his parents, they assume he is lying to break up the new marriage, and they promptly ignore him. Soon enough, as Frank digs deeper, he finds there is more truth to his son's tale than he could've imagined. Frank soon sets out to prove his son's story, much to the dismay of Rick who will stop at nothing to keep his past behind him.
Harold Becker knows his way around an autumn thriller, having helmed "Malice," which is the perfect example of how good a director he can be. But with "Domestic Disturbance" he pushes the film through the usual paces, not bringing anything that smacks of passion to the proceedings. He comes off as a simple director for hire, which makes the picture's eventual tampering all the more distressing.
Part of the story's growth is to show Vaughn's Rick as a Norman Rockwell father, then switch to a scheming thug when his past finally catches up to him. This is clearly shown in a scene between Vaughn and Steve Buscemi (playing a sleazy friend of Rick's) as they curse up a storm and talk smack about Frank's son. However, the cursing has been deleted (badly, I might add), as has Vaughn's motivations for trying to keep his cover from everybody. The film's trailer alone uncovers a peek at Rick's desperation as he tries to keep Frank off his trail with a bribe that never made it into the final film. "Domestic Disturbance" plays like one long trailer for a picture that was once there, and frankly I'm surprised Becker allowed such a thing to happen to his own film. Even if the pace is slowed to accommodate more narrative, it would be worth it to the audience. There is just too much meat cleaved off the story. It renders the film as one long thrill ride when it should've been more tightly wound than that.
The real treat is watching Travolta and Vaughn act together for the first time. Travolta, with his leftover long hair from last summer's "Swordfish," finds the right balance between paternal love and blue-collar hero in his Frank character. Travolta is pretty good at playing paranoia, and he crackles with desperation and fatigue as his character runs around trying to figure things out. On the other side is Vaughn, who slightly reprises his role as the good ole boy/American nightmare from "Psycho." It is almost criminal just how breezy an actor Vaughn is. His work here is fun to watch because it's both effortless and menacing.
As I checked my watch at the 80-minute mark, I nestled in tightly to my seat awaiting a big climax where Travolta and Vaughn go mano to mano in a battle to the death. But when that moment comes, it charges by far too fast. There is no buildup to the climax of "Domestic Disturbance," and that is so very symptomatic of the rest of the movie. As with any good thriller, I really don't care about the unexplainable points of the story, I'm more concerned about the unexplored ones. Somewhere out there is a terrific script for "Disturbance" with loads of character motivations and thick plotting. It's a shame that Becker and Paramount were so eager to jettison all that at the first sign of audience boredom.
Filmfodder Grade: C+