Domestic Disturbance (PG-13) ★★½

Review Date: November 2nd, 2001

Domestic Disturbance stars John Travolta as a middle-aged divorced father who struggles to regain custody of his son after learning the boy's soon-to-be stepfather is not the respected businessman he appears to be.


Frank's (John Travolta) ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo) is planning her second marriage to respected businessman Rick (Vince Vaughn) (we know this because he receives an award from the city's chamber of commerce). However, Frank and Susan's 11-year-old son Danny (Matthew O'Leary) is having trouble adjusting to the prospect of a new stepfather. The carefree Susan nonetheless goes ahead with the impending nuptials, which go off without a hitch until an uninvited guest shows up at the wedding. Turns out this guest Ray (Steve Buscemi) used to be Rick's partner in crime before he became a town pillar, and has come to town to collect some sort of unpaid debt. Worried about tarnishing his newfound image, Rick decides to get rid of his old buddy. But he soon finds out Danny is on to him and terrorizes the tyke into keeping his dirty secret. Danny tries to get help but no one, except Frank, believes him.


Travolta (Swordfish) is believable enough as a caring, blue-collar father, but he doesn't seem to give more to his performance than needed. It could be his over-simplistic character; Frank was almost too good of a guy and lacked authenticity. Vaughn (Made) is menacing enough to pull off the role of Rick, but his character is unfortunately never fully developed. Viewers are expected to buy that he was once really crooked and now the pillar of the community with hardly any basis. Polo (Meet the Parents) plays the part of a concerned mother well, but it conflicts with her character's aloofness. It's hard to believe her concern over her son after she marries a man she obviously knew nothing about. For his first feature film, O'Leary demonstrates a lot of potential for a young actor and was well cast as Danny.


Harold Becker's Domestic Disturbance sticks to the tried and true evil stepfather formula, which makes the story a little too predictable. The film might have been more interesting had the story risen above the level of a made-for-TV movie. There were also some elements to the story that made it a bit hard to swallow, like the fact that the local police department was not able to prove a murder had obviously taken place. There are a few corny scenes, like when Travolta goes crashing headfirst into a car windshield but still manages to give a dopey smile to his terrified son tied up in the back seat. Surprisingly, the film still provides enough tension and suspense to make it entertaining, even when using old tricks like unexpectedly seeing the villain's reflection in a mirror. The look of the film and the accurate re-creation of a small seaside tourist town in Maryland add to its visual authenticity.

Bottom Line

Though Domestic Disturbance is not necessarily memorable, it has a good cast and proves entertaining enough.