What is it about step-parents that throws Hollywood scriptwriters into a clammy sweat? Maybe it's because Tinseltown is awash with ruined marriages that films like My Stepmother Is An Alien, The Stepfather and now Domestic Disturbance insist on styling step-parents as cruel bogeymen.
The `high concept' premise of this by-the-numbers thriller boils down to a single question: who would you rather have as a dad, psychopathic white-collar criminal Vince Vaughn or podgy boat-builder John Travolta? Any readers offering the answer Steve Buscemi can award themselves top marks, since it's the lugubrious one's supporting performance that emerges as the only high note in this otherwise leaden schlocker.
The kid-in-peril here is Danny Morrison (Matt O'Leary), who claims that he saw his stepdad (Vaughn) commit murder, but is disbelieved by everyone because they think he's just trying to get attention. Everyone, that is, apart from his real dad (Travolta) who pieces together the evidence and discovers that his ex-wife's new husband probably isn't the kind of man he wants reading bedtime stories to his nipper.
As the hissable nutjob Vaughn exudes the requisite degree of suave menace, reworking his Norman Bates into a less twitchy, and more up-market psycho. But Travolta proves yet again that there was a very good reason he had slipped off casting agents' radars before Tarantino's resurrection job in Pulp Fiction. Shambling through the movie like a lost puppy, he succeeds in tripping over every piece of clunking dialogue and looks like a man who's lost the will to live, let alone work.
Buscemi's supporting turn shows him up further, proving that there ought to be a Hollywood rule stipulating that erstwhile A-list porkers should never be allowed to work with children, animals or professional actors. Playing a dodgy accomplice from Vaughn's shady past, Buscemi's presence simply serves to remind us that somewhere out there in movieland actually thrilling thrillers really do exist. He out-performs both of his co-stars with little more than a single crooked smile and a deep drag on his cigarette.
Journeyman helmer Harold Becker has worked on enough films to know how an efficient potboiler ought to be put together - he was, after all, the man who knocked out diverting Al Pacino `tec thriller Sea Of Love. But that was over 10 years ago, and Domestic Disturbance has much more in common with Becker's last would-be blockbuster, turgid snooze Mercury Rising (arguably Bruce Willis' worst-ever film, and that's quite a claim). The only hope to be drawn from this similarly uninvolving yarn is that Buscemi negotiated a big enough pay packet to bankroll a sequel to Trees Lounge.
Dull, preposterous and completely lacking in tension, Domestic Disturbance is an idea-free variation on the step-pop from Hades theme. Thank heaven for Steve Buscemi, who keeps things watchable. Just.