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Movie Review

When 12-year-old Danny Morrison’s parents separated, he got hauled in for breaking windows. When their divorce was being finalized, he got busted for truancy. Now that Mom (Susan) is marrying again, no one is surprised when Danny gets picked up for stowing away in a stranger’s car. "This acting out is just his way of trying to get you two back together," diagnoses a bored Sergeant Stevens, who has seen enough of Danny and wants to get the kid out of his police station.

When Susan announces that she and her new husband, Rick, are expecting a baby, Danny's desperate to talk with his real dad (Frank), so he hides out in Rick’s SUV, hoping to catch a ride to town. Crouched in the back seat, he gets an eyeful he didn’t bargain for: Rick stabs Ray (his old partner in crime) and throws his body in an incinerator. From there on out, Danny is a prisoner in his own home as Rick intimidates and threatens him to keep him quiet. At first, no one believes Danny’s story. Surely he’s just acting out again. Besides, Rick (and his money) are so important to idyllic, all-American Southport, Md., that he’s being named its Man of the Year after living there for just two years. In the end it's the strong bond between father and son that help the pair save the day.

positive content: Frank and Danny have an amazing relationship in which trust and communication run deep. Frank spends time finding out what Danny really thinks and feels. He takes his son seriously and doesn’t talk down to him. A beautiful scene shows Frank passing down the rich family tradition of building wooden sailboats. When Danny’s integrity is in question, Frank sacrifices both a much-needed contract job and his own romantic relationship to stick by his son. And even though Susan isn’t as close to Danny, their relationship is still admirably functional. More than once, family members apologize to each other for wrongs done. But this family’s bond is the only element that’s developed with any depth. Beyond it, about all that’s left to be said is that the bad guy gets it in the end.

sexual content: Ray jokes that Southport doesn’t have any adult bookstores. Later, he’s shown watching TV in bed with a prostitute. She’s wearing cheap and skimpy lingerie. When Frank is trying to track down clues to the murder, the woman informs him, "I don’t know which one Ray liked better: screwing or watching basketball." Also, Frank lives with his girlfriend, Diane.

violent content: This movie’s blood-and-guts quotient is low. And while that’s admirable, there are still a great number of violent acts both portrayed and insinuated. Volatile from the custody battle over Danny, Frank punches a guy and rushes at Rick. Rick murders Ray and burns his body. Several times, he shoves and grabs Danny harshly as he threatens him. Later, he knocks Frank out, burns down his workshops and throws his pregnant wife against a wall. In retaliation and self defense, Danny hits Rick in the head with a baseball bat, Susan slams his leg in a car door and Frank takes him on in an all-out brawl which ends in Rick’s accidental electrocution.

crude or profane language: Several characters have a penchant for using Jesus’ name in vain—it pops up at least 10 times. The Lord's name is also combined with a profanity several times. There are about half-a-dozen s-words and 10 or so milder profanities. One f-word slips in under the PG-13 wire.

drug and alcohol content: After Frank loses the custody case, he goes to a bar to drown his sorrows. Through dialogue the audience learns that drinking is part of what perpetuated his divorce. Alcohol is served at a wedding and champagne is used to christen a boat. Ray and the prostitute both smoke cigarettes.

other negative elements: Frank illegally enters a building as he searches for clues. And like so many movies about broken families, this one employs the tired excuse, "Your mom and I tried to work things out, but we were arguing all the time and thought divorce would be better for the family." Certainly extenuating circumstances exist, but uncritical acceptance of this line of thinking is partially responsible for the "easy divorce" culture in which we now live.

conclusion: The characters are shallow; the writing is formulaic; the ending is rushed. The only differences between Domestic Disturbance and an expensive TV drama are about 27 minutes and some bad language (And with the direction TV’s taken recently, the latter may soon be a moot point.) Here's a criminal who moves to a new town but doesn’t change his name. A cop who won’t make a thorough investigation simply because a kid is getting on his nerves. Shabby storytelling.

Domestic Disturbance gets big props for portraying a dad who is loving, communicative, involved, regretful of his mistakes, strong, bold and justice-seeking. But harsh language and violence make it a domestic disappointment for families.

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John Travolta as Frank Morrison; Vince Vaughn as Rick Barnes; Teri Polo as Susan Morrison Barnes; Matthew O’Leary as Danny Morrison; Steve Buscemi as Ray Coleman


Harold Becker ( )


Paramount Pictures



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Lindy Keffer

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