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Domestic Disturbance

Published: Friday, Nov. 2 2001 9:29 a.m. MST

Vince Vaughn and Steve Buscemi got into a North Carolina bar fight while making "Domestic Disturbance." That's not the kind of thing that really has any business being mentioned in a review, but in this case, it's the most interesting thing about the movie.

Stripped down to the dumbest fundamentals of the family thriller genre, the movie plays like it's been test-screened to appeal within microns of audiences' basest common instincts.

It's all tired stuff about an evil stepfather, an unhappy kid who's cried wolf one too many times, his love-deluded mother and his lovingly upright dad. There's also a sleazy threat from said wicked step-parent's past (Buscemi, of course, unimaginatively). Oh, and there's a fire.

The result is a thriller that doesn't trust viewers enough to patiently build genuine suspense. Instead, every plot point is signaled much too early. Any possibility of motivational ambiguity is steamrolled by cheap urgings to fear, hate and jump on cue.

Set in a small hamlet on the Maryland coast, "Disturbance" stars John Travolta as generally good guy Frank Morrison. Dedicated to hand-crafting the fine wooden pleasure boats his family has been turning out for generations, Frank doesn't make much money. But he's liked by all and still on the best of terms with his ex, Susan (Teri Polo).

Frank's also a dang fine weekend father to 12-year-old Danny (Matt O'Leary). But even though the kid is basically all right, he tends to get in trouble with the law every time there's a parental crisis. The latest one is a doozy; Susan is about to remarry wealthy, philanthropic new guy in town Rick Barnes (Vaughn), and Danny just knows there's something really wrong with the dude.

So do we, especially when Rick is distracted from saying "I do" when scuzzy associate-from-his-past Ray (Buscemi) shows up uninvited at the wedding. Frank gets to know the mysterious Ray a little bit, and when the visitor suddenly disappears, Frank has good reason to suspect that Rick had something to do with it — especially since Danny is running around telling unbelieving adults that his stepfather is a murderer.

Of course, Frank is the only grown-up who believes his son. Naturally enough, everyone else thinks Frank is just working out some understandable jealousy. But guess who's really right?

Wait, you don't have to, because director Harold Becker ("City Hall," "Malice") makes everything completely evident before we need to know it.

"Domestic Disturbance" is rated PG-13 for violence (brawling, as well as a child in jeopardy) and occasional use of strong profanity. Running time: 91 minutes.

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