"I'm gonna watch you burn."—John Travolta
Poor John Travolta. That whole Battlefield Earth thing must have been like a swift blow to his already bloated noggin'. Since then Travolta's script decisions seem about as clouded as Snoop Dogg's living room on a Friday night. Lucky Numbers, Swordfish…geez, talk about a couple of buzz kills on an already fragile career. Following Swordfish's dismal box office returns was the Harold Becker (Mercury Rising) "edge-of-your-seat thriller" Domestic Disturbance. Unfortunately, this movie didn't drum up spectacular numbers at the box office either. Maybe if John's lucky there's another Look Who's Talking lurking in the wings. Until then, audiences are stuck watching a very paunchy Travolta make "I'm so mad at you!" eyes at Vince Vaughn (Made). Also starring Teri Polo (Meet The Parents) and Steve "can't play a romantic lead if I tried" Buscemi (Fargo), Domestic Disturbance comes knocking on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Frank Morrison (Travolta) lives the quite life making wooden sailing boats in a beautiful part of Maine. His son Danny (Matthew O'Leary, Frailty) is basically a good kid but is often getting into trouble due to his parent's divorce. Things are starting to become even more difficult for Danny when his mother (Polo) marries Rick Barnes, a good looking businessman who seems to have a dark secret. Wait, did I say seems? Well, of course he has a dark secret! At the wedding Rick's "friend" Ray (Buscemi) shows up out of the blue, prompting Rick to make some mean faces that tell us he's not going to be a very nice guy. Frank notices Rick's reaction, gets suspicious, then slightly dismisses it as nothing important. However, Frank's suspicions are confirmed when Danny secretly stows away in a car and witnesses Ray's death at the hands of a very angry Rick. Dismissed by the police as a another in a series of lies and by his mother as a fib to get attention, Danny must now turn to his father for help before Rick decides to take out his anger on Danny and the rest of his family!
"An unforgettable cat-and-mouse thriller," reads the back of the DVD packaging. Hmph. I don't think so. Domestic Disturbance is as fluffy entertainment as you're likely to come by, and unforgettable might be a tad bit of an overstatement. They say that the number of good scripts floating around Hollywood is on the very low end of the spectrum. I can believe that if we keep getting movies like Domestic Disturbance—pointless, by the numbers, and very insubstantial.
While watching Domestic Disturbance I was trying to imagine what elements of the script could have possibly attracted Travolta and Vaughn to this film. Neither of their characters hold much weight or depth. Travolta's Frank Morrison is as uncomplicated as they come. There are a few hints as to why he and his wife divorced—possibly drinking?—but they are never fully explored, only standing on the periphery of the script. Otherwise, his character is Mr. Nice Guy, never once showing much in the way of characterization or complexity. Vaughn's character is so obviously bad that I you end up scratching your head wondering how anyone as sweet as Polo's character could end up marrying the guy. Not only that, but he changes from somewhat ominous guy to malevolent meanie in 2.9 seconds. While playing catch with Danny on the front lawn, Rick suddenly becomes the world's biggest jackass after he realizes that Danny can't properly throw a baseball. Let's take a look at a certain scenario: say you were a notorious crook who needed to get away from his old life and start a new one (not that this has ever happened to me…much). Don't you think that you'd want to cover your tracks properly by not acting like a complete wad? The Danny character is another sore spot—why is it that when kids say they just saw a man killed, no one believes them? Okay, granted Danny has been known to lie to his parents on many occasions. But don't you think a parent (BOTH parents) could tell the difference between a lie out of jealousy or frustration and the truth when it comes to a child witnessing murder? Teri Polo as Danny's mother is out on cloud nine—her character seems to be oblivious to everything going on around her. She never believes that her kid is telling the truth even though her husband looks like he crawled out of some deep, dank hole to set up shop in her bedroom.
Of course, the cast don't get much help from Lewis Colick's screenplay, who also wrote the critically acclaimed October Sky and the goofy but entertaining Judgment Night. It bears repeating that this script is just one big fat lump of nothing. The plot, as it stands, is only the skeletal outline of a movie. All through Domestic Disturbance I kept having the recurring thought, "this story feels like it's only halfway finished." Characters seemed to appear out of nowhere, time transitions happened awkwardly, and the dialogue was endlessly repetitive. On the plus side, it's only 89 minutes long.
I won't give away the ending of the movie, though I will say that it's about as anti-climatic as they come. At the very least, give the audience a thrilling, fun ending if you're going to yank their chains the whole way through. I felt yanked, and now I'm ready to do some of my own yankin'. If anyone has John Travolta's phone number, shoot it on over to me so I can help him pick better scripts. Mr. Travolta, it's time to look into Pulp Fiction 2: Vincent's Revenge!
Domestic Disturbance is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a great job of recreating the theatrical presentation onto DVD. Sporting vivid colors and some deep, dark black levels, I was fairly impressed with how good this image looked. There is some edge enhancement in a few scenes (that seems to happen a bit on some Paramount titles), but otherwise this is a very clean transfer sans any pixelation, artifacting or shimmer.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround in English and French. Much like the video presentation, this 5.1 audio mix is exceptionally well done and very full. There are some excellent moments of directional use in this film (a scene where a building catches on fire and then blows up was very nice) with both the front and rear speakers used aggressively. Another plus is that no distortion, hiss, or excessive imperfections are heard anywhere in the soundtrack. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
While you certainly wouldn't consider Domestic Disturbance a full blown "special collector's edition" (as Paramount likes to call them), it does include a few extra features worth nothing. The first is a commentary track by director Harold Becker. Becker sounds like he's 107 years old. This is a fairly engaging commentary with Becker discussing the story, the production, and thankfully Mark Mancina's haunting music score (which I promptly bought after seeing the movie). There are a few lulling gaps in this track, though otherwise fans of the film (all three of 'em) will find this track worthwhile. Six deleted scenes (with an audio introduction by the director) are included that actually might have helped along the narrative if they would have been left in the final cut. Each of these scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, look very clean and feature optional commentary by Becker. Finally, there are some bland storyboards for two different sequences from the film ("Fire Sequence," "Ray's Death Sequence") and a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film.
Maybe I'm being too harsh on Domestic Disturbance. Is it that bad? Well, no…I've seen worse, and Travolta has starred in worse. Still, Domestic Disturbance isn't worth an hour and a half of your life. Just think, in the time it took me to watch Domestic Disturbance I could have taught my nephew how to build a birdhouse or sent money to a third world country for food. Oh the humanity…
Domestic Disturbance is under house arrest! Court adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Harold Becker
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