November 8, 2001

Disturbingly Droll

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As I was paying for my ticket to Domestic Disturbance, the new John Travolta flick, the woman at the box office brusquely told me that I couldn’t bring my backpack inside the theater.

“Well … is there anywhere I can leave it?” I asked.

“No, you’ll have to put it in your car or wherever.”

Come on, I’m a student here. Who doesn’t ride TCAT to get to Pyramid Mall? I tried another tack: “Is this a new rule?”

The woman replied, “Since last Thursday. It’s because of the world we live in.”

Realizing it wasn’t her fault, I nodded and went outside to find a bush big enough to hide my backpack.

Needless to say, the incident awakened me to the impact of Sept. 11 on the movies. Terrorism stories are being put on the fast track as quickly as they were pulled a month ago, forcing viewers to watch leftovers such as Disturbance, which feels as stale as Travolta’s career.

In an opening straight out of Mrs. Doubtfire, we find Travolta as abandoned dad Frank Morrison, desperately clinging to his old life as father to his beloved Danny (Matthew O’Leary), a preteen grab bag of misdemeanors and mischief. Fortunately, Travolta stops short of cross-dressing to be near his son. Instead, he sulks in his small-town seaside home while maintaining his declining profession of making sailboats.

But wait, there’s more! Who would have thought that Danny, who already has a police record, would witness a murder committed by evil stepfather Vince Vaughn? Or that, in the ensuing custody battle, Danny is forced to live under the same roof as a murderer?

The TV-grade plot, which should never have left the mid-90s — where it likely began as an episode of Divorce Court. The film drags along as it teeters from B-horror movie to courtroom drama to action flick. Besides not making up his mind about what kind of movie he’s making, director Harold Becker fails to evoke any interesting performances whatsoever, and confines his cardboard characters to utterly uninspired scenes.

Early on in the movie, Vaughn attempts to bond with his stepson during a game of catch. After Danny makes a few bad throws, Vaughn puts on his trademark antagonist face, stomps on his baseball glove, and yells at him. Might there be something we don’t know about Dad Number Two?

Travolta’s performance may not be anything to dance about, but he is believable enough as the caring dad with nothing to lose. As he battles the doubting police officers, his ex-wife, and his girlfriend, he radiates a convincing determination that makes the script’s droll lines come more or less alive. You gotta hand it to Travolta: He can’t choose ’em, but he sure doesn’t give up.

Hollywood can do better than a domestic disturbance to keep viewers entertained. And if making better movies involves taking on international disturbances, bring it on. At least they will fill up that empty, apathetic theater in the Pyramid Mall.

Archived article by Andy Guess