Forget about dramatic tension. Or subtlety and nuance. Grasping such concepts is obviously not within the purview of the creators of Domestic Disturbance. Too bad, because the actors here are just fine, and the story they're working with, although not very original, perhaps could have been coaxed into a fine, B-grade thriller. If only.

A mellow John Travolta can and does create real empathy for his character, Frank Morrison, a goodhearted guy and devoted (but divorced) dad who spends weekends with his son Danny (Matt O'Leary) and on weekdays makes a meager living building wooden sailboats in a picturesque town on the Maryland shore. Neither Frank nor his kid are happy when Frank's ex, Susan (Teri Polo), decides to marry her live-in fianc, Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), who's handsome, rich and apparently successful enough to be voted 'man of the year' in his new home town.

In fact, Danny so resents his future stepfather he begins running away from home and then makes up tall tales to explain where he was. But we know that Danny knows there's something seriously awry with Rick. And Frank begins to know it, too--especially after an old friend of Rick's, a mysterious guy named Ray (Steve Buscemi, wearing what looks like one of his getups from Fargo) shows up at the wedding.

When Rick and Ray meet later in a sleazy motel to discuss some business (i.e., all the money Rick got away with in a bank robbery they had plotted together), Ray says to Rick: 'Don't you want to know how I found ya?' Then Ray reminisces about how, when he and Rick were cellmates, Rick used to talk nostalgically about this shore town in Maryland. So Ray says he found the town and when he got there, guess what?--there in the newspaper was Rick and Susan's wedding announcement!

We cite the above because it's one of the dumbest scenes in director Harold Becker's film. Who cares how Ray found Rick? Get on with the action! Oh, the plot does lumber on, in numbing detail, flatlining every opportunity to build tension and excitement. Rick disposes of Ray in a most brutal way, and Danny, the kid, sees it all happen. Does Danny get away? Yes, easily, and he goes immediately to the cops to report the murder. But do they believe him? No, because there's absolutely no evidence of a murder and, besides, Danny's a known fibber and he's made no secret of his resentment of Rick. Frank is the only one who believes his son, and he's apparently the only one who can solve the mystery of Ray's death. Which means that Frank's next on Rick's hit list.

But there's never a moment's doubt about the outcome here: Frank will survive, turn into Super Dad to save his son and ex-wife and, eventually, go mano-a-mano with Evil Stepdad. Although Domestic Disturbance takes a few more twists and turns along the way, there are no startling surprises. Unless you count the surprising ease with which the protagonist escapes any danger. There's no thrill in that.

--Shirley Sealy