Teri Polo, John Travolta, ...
Credit: Domestic Disturbance: James Bridges

You know the shot, you’ve seen it umpteen times, when a character is in peril at home — maybe he’s at the bathroom sink, brushing his teeth. And the camera pulls up behind him so that you’re looking over his shoulder as he’s brushing his teeth in the mirror. He looks down at the sink and then looks up, and there’s another guy, an evil one, standing in the doorway. There’s a lot of that sort of thing in Domestic Disturbance, a lot of those uh-oh-it’s-coming-it’s-HERE! set-ups. And the machinery works just great.

Every signifier in this quintessentially American domestic thriller is in satisfying running order. Every component fits snugly into a code crackable by an audience primed for the well-manufactured and familiar: the lashing thunderstorm, the dismissive cop, the violent struggle, Steve Buscemi playing a lowlife. Director Harold Becker (”Sea of Love”), working from an unobtrusive screenplay by Lewis Colick, handles his components like a fine mechanic.

Becker even tinkers a humming performance out of John Travolta as Frank Morrison, a divorced father. Frank’s a Maryland boatbuilder (read: honest) whose 12-year-old son, Danny (Culkin-faced Matt O’Leary), lives with his ex-wife (”Meet the Parents”’ Teri Polo) and her new husband (Vince Vaughn), a rich investor (read: shady). Travolta has allowed his talent to warp in recent projects, twisted by junk like ”Battlefield Earth,” but this part fits him like a pair of good work gloves. Frank’s a rock-solid father who believes his son when the boy says he has seen his stepfather murder a man — even though Danny is prone to lie, what with his parents’ divorce and all. (Vaughn uses up leftover ”Psycho” glowers to threaten the boy.)

Too bad Mom doesn’t believe the kid, at least not at first. But she comes around. Not for nothing have you seen it umpteen times: When a disturbance is dramatized well, there’s no place like home.

Domestic Disturbance
  • Movie
  • 91 minutes