Most modern big-screen thrillers attempt to shake up the standard formulas by pouring on the sex, violence and flashy visual stylism, but "Domestic Disturbance" is the picture of modesty as it relates the story of a boy named Danny (Matt O'Leary), whose divorced mom ("Meet the Parents'" Teri Polo) marries a charming, wealthy newcomer to their seaside Maryland town (Vince Vaughn from "Swingers"). When Danny witnesses his new stepdad murdering a mysterious acquaintance ("Ghost World's" Steve Buscemi), the only one who believes his tale is his loving biological father (John Travolta). That's about as complex as things get as custody issues trap Danny in an increasingly scary situation and Travolta's character goes into sleuthing hero mode in a desperate attempt to save him.
While the intense emotions involved are constantly pulling the film in the direction of "movie of the week" melodramatics, sharp casting and the character-driven nature of Lewis Colick's script keep things above water most of the time. Travolta is at his most natural as the low-key, likable hero, while Vaughn is a delight as a villain who is both convincingly fearsome and--for a change in this kind of film--completely understandable in terms of his motives. Refreshingly, Becker keeps the suspense and action bits on a down-to-earth, plausible level all too rare in the genre these days. Starring John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matt O'Leary and Steve Buscemi. Directed by Harold Becker. Written by Lewis Colick. Produced by Johnathan D. Krane and Donald De Line. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence, brief sexuality and language. Running time: 88 min