Domestic Disturbance

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After three bad movies in a row, John Travolta has finally risen above it to an acceptable level of mediocrity. Who knows, maybe the next one will actually be good.

“Domestic Disturbance” is not a bad movie, as bare-bones, right-to-the-point thrillers go. Travolta plays Frank, a divorced boat-builder in a picturesque Maryland town whose ex-wife Susan (Teri Polo) is about to marry newcomer Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a wealthy businessman beloved by all.

Immediately after the wedding, Mr. Nice Guy Rick becomes Evil Stepdad, like people do in these movies. Then Frank and Susan’s adolescent son, Danny (Matt O’Leary), who never trusted Rick to begin with, sees him kill a guy (Steve Buscemi). But no one believes him except Frank, and now Danny is living in a house with a killer, and yada yada yada.

The film is only 88 minutes long, yet still has some padding in it, particularly with a few scenes that hint at unrealized character development. Still, the pace is generally quick and efficient.

The writing, however, by Lewis Colick (working from a story that inexplicably took three people to devise: Colick, William S. Comanor and Gary Drucker), is often hasty and convenient. The way Danny witnesses the murder is a little far-fetched, as is the victim’s bloodless death. And as is the trend these days, the most important clues and discoveries are made on the Internet.

You get the feeling the movie is setting up something particularly clever for its finale, but then it doesn’t. There is no smoking gun, no stunning revelation, no clever means of catching the bad guy. Just fighting and running and breathless phone calls that say, “Get out of the house!”

The acting avoids over-the-top theatrics, and while director Harold Becker is not above a few cheap “jump” moments, he doesn’t lean on them excessively. One is tempted to call the thing “taut,” except it’s too sloppy and muddle-headed to be that. It is a simple, serviceable, reasonably entertaining thriller, and nothing more.

B- (; PG-13, a fair amount of profanity and some.)

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