April 8th, 2004
Script Review: DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
Script Excerpt included at end of review.
THE STEPFATHER. If it wasnt already taken, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE would almost certainly be named that. But I assume it avoided the title to lessen the obviousness that it rips that movie off, and all in its genre, with sticky-fingered hands.
Parents split up. Leaving their kid in a strange situation. He wants things to be the way they were before: before the bickering and fighting and shuffling from one location to another. The parents, their own relationship beyond repair, stay civil for their childs benefit. Common predicament we find all the time nowadays. The disparate, connected, equally hard lives of a broken-homed kid, a single father and a single mother.
Frank (a boat-building former drinker) is watching bitterly as his ex-wife, Susan, marries hotshot, big-bucks nice-guy Kurt. Their son, Danny, is even less happy about it. Seeing his mother move on means, in his head, that she is betraying him. The new marriage shatters any hope he has for his mother and father getting back together.
Danny, as many new-to-the-broken-home-scene kids will do, acts out in small ways: trouble at school, breaking windows, etc. Hes gaining a rep with the local PD.
Susan pleads with Frank, who, despite being second-parent in the custody, has the kids undying trust, to talk to Danny and help him accept Kurt. Frank agrees and takes Kurt along on fishing trips and the like. Soon enough Danny is willing to let Kurt into their life. And Susan and Danny have a beautiful wedding. And it all seems great, but look out! Bet you didnt see this coming --
Kurt is not who he seems to be! (THUNDER AND LIGHTNING EFFECT.)
Danny becomes hysterical upon hearing that his mother is pregnant. He wants to talk to his father, but Frank isnt home. He learns that Kurt is headed to town and jumps into the back seat without Kurt knowing. Unfortunately for Kurt, hes there to kill a former criminal associate and Danny witnesses the whole thing. Danny, of course, runs to his father and tells him. No one believes Danny. Cops check up on it and figure the kid is making up lies because hes threatened by this forthcoming baby.
Even Frank at first doesnt believe Danny. Kurt plays innocent with the cops; in private he tells Danny hell hurt him and his father if he squeals.
And so, if you havent figured it out, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is a hackneyed entry in the desiccated "the-kid-wasnt-lying" genre. Wherein a youngster sees something violent or amazing and spends most of the movie trying to convince people of what he saw -- not doing so until the third act when one adult believes in him/her and goes all out to set the record straight or save him/her or save the world.
There was a great little bit on THE SIMPSONS about this two years ago. Where Lisa is convinced the new school owners are toy-makers and not teachers. They approach the door she found the evidence (a peculiar robot) in and Homer, eyes bugging and voice raising midway, says, "Is this going to be like one of those horror movies where we open the door and everythings normal and we think youre crazy, but then there really is a killer robot and then the next morning you find me impaled on a weathervane? Is that what this is, Lisa!"
Screenwriter Lewis Colick (JUDGEMENT NIGHT) has already been down this route with UNLAWFUL ENTRY, and he should have known the nice-guy-whos-really-a-psycho carcass has been picked clean. We know Kurt is a bad guy. We see him kill. We know no one will believe Danny when he says this. And we know Frank, whose life Kurt tries to ruin, will come in and save the day. So why are we watching this? Even if director Harold Becker (SEA OF LOVE) fancies this thing up, its still like re-watching a movie youve seen before and waiting for the beats and tics and moments to roll by. Theres no suspense because the story has nowhere else to go but right down the middle. It leaves no room for left turns.
This is one of those scripts that probably should have been written sans potboiler/violence. Colick is hardly a good writer, but the early goings about Frank and Susan dealing with raising their kid separately are much more convincing than the rest of this claptrap. We can understand Danny and his frustration. The scenes where Danny and Frank interact and do father-son things (Danny totally devoted to his pops) felt real.
This plot about the evil stepfather is not only fatuous but prehistoric. It should also worry two upcoming flicks: ROAD TO PERDITION and ENOUGH. ROAD TO PERDITION has a similar scene in it where a young boy hides in a back seat and sees his mobster father and his fathers partner murder someone. And ENOUGH is a rehash of SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, which was a rehash of THE STEPFATHER, both of which inspired this tripe. ENOUGH, by the way, was maybe the worst script Ive ever read. So totally horrible I couldnt even write a review on it.
If youre a screenwriter and youre going to tell a story people know the mechanics of, why not give them a little something new to nibble on? Why smack their faces with the same-old-same-old refuse they expect? Colick appears to think making the whole thing silly will appease people. We learn that Kurt was a mobster in Philly and after a heist he got off while his three partners went to lockup. One of those partners shows up at Kurts wedding and demands his cut of the dough. This is the dude that Kurt knocks off in front of Danny.
Heres the thing, though: Frank, curious about his sons story, strolls into the library and pulls up a story about Kurts ill-behavior and of how he beat the rap. If were to believe this newspaper, hes a pretty big deal. So how is it that he just moves to this small Northern California coastal town without anyone knowing who he is? Theres a big stink when Danny accuses him of murder. They look through Kurts car and question him. Did anyone -- I dont know -- think to look up who he actually is? Hes still using his real name (just not his first name). The man has made the Philly newspapers! Its not like hes a nickel-and-dimer! Theres not one law enforcement officer who recognizes him? Colick lets Frank find this out, but, bafflingly, makes him too stupid to present it to the cops. Instead of presenting the cops with a photo of Kurt at his trial (which would have proved a lot, not the least of which is that hes not who he says he is) he instead shows them a lighter the murdered associate had. What will this prove? That the guy was there? Isnt it more important to show them that Kurt is a criminal? This is the worst kind of writing: insulting to our intelligence, cheating and shiftless.
This will forever be known as the project that Vince Vaughn was working on when he, Steve Buscemi and Scott Rosenberg got into a bar brawl with a local. (Steve was stabbed in the head, but returned to work.) What this story could have used was a little of that excitement.
Vaughns Kurt is a confused character. As in STEPFATHER, the man wants to leave behind his bad deeds and live a normal life. But the character isnt clear enough: hes either jumping for joy because hes going to have a child or terrorizing the young boy and getting his rocks off on the power. Rather than frighten the kid, why didnt Kurt try to reason with him? Say, in effect, "Listen, Danny, Ive done some things in the past that Im not proud of. I dealt with guys like him. He wanted to hurt me, your mother, her baby. I had to stop him. But those times are through." It might not have worked, but it has to be more effective than creeping up on the kid like a drive-in movie monster and spooking him till his teeth are rattling.
Frank, played by John Travolta, is standard-issue good guy. He doesnt build "plastic" boats even though it could make him a bunch of money because its not "right." Hes lost his wife to a new man and his son will have to live with him -- but, oh, hell, hell be nice to him and try to get his son to do the same. This isnt a man! Its a smiley-face button. A do-right grin with nothing behind it.
Susan, the requisite caught-in-between female who screams a lot, is played by MEET THE PARENTSs Teri Polo. Her talents will sadly be wasted.
Maybe Harold Becker can work his director muscles and squeeze a drop of suspense out of the trite scenes Colick has given him. Cheap false-scares where it was really a rat. A car chase for no reason where the car rides up on the sidewalk. A chase around a house thats totally inept. Et cetera. But dont count on it. Harold Becker knows how to work his camera, and can cast a spell (as with TAPS), but with something like MERCURY RISING he completely sucked the strength out of the script and stripped it down till it was a jest.
None of this is helped, incidentally, by Colicks maddeningly bland, repetitive writing style. Hes written many screenplays, and though I dont like to talk about actual prose in these reviews, Id suggest Colick expand his descriptions a bit and stop using cliches to illustrate everything. I think the term "so-and-so just looks at him," which could work maybe once, is used two dozen times.
DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is one of those weird Hollywood films that everyone sits around afterwards asking how it got made -- and with such big stars. Even if it looks sleek and gooses you once or twice, you know exactly whats going to happen and when it will. It offers nothing new and never delves into its supposed point: the scary reality of having to, in some sad cases, let your kid live with a person you know nothing about.
The idea could be a creepy one, but DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is too obvious, stolid and joyless -- deadened by the rot of its paint-by-numbers feel and its indifferent step-by-genre-step dance -- to make you care even in a superficial way.
Pages 31 - 33. Second draft -- July 26, 2000. INT. KURT'S DEN - DAY It's a chilly, late autumn afternoon. There's a fire going in the fireplace. Danny tosses a ball into the air and catches it in his brand new baseball glove, while Kurt talks to Susan, who's showing him a newspaper announcement. SUSAN The county fair starts next weekend. You guys up for it? KURT Sounds good to me, but I'm just a poor city slicker. Never been anywhere near a county fair. (smiles to Danny) Danny, you're gonna have to show me the ropes. But Danny's attention is focused on tossing the baseball. DANNY You wanna have a catch? SUSAN (smiling) That's right, you two have fun while I go off to get tortured by the dentist. Susan starts to leave. KURT You're going to the dentist? SUSAN And then I've got some shopping. See you boys later. And Susan's gone. Kurt seems vaguely uncomfortable. DANNY Come on, Kurt, go get your glove. EXT. YARD - DAY Kurt and Danny are having a catch. Watching Kurt, we realize that he's quite agile and athletic, not the klutz he appeared to be on the fishing boat. Danny drops the ball. DANNY It's not broken in. KURT Don't blame the glove, Danny... DANNY You oughtta see my dad play ball. He was the MVP of his high school team. KURT Your dad's gonna be working for me. He tell you that? DANNY (news to him) No. KURT I hired him to build some boats. Danny throws the ball back. Kurt shakes his head. KURT (cont'd) If your dad's such a hotshot ball player, how come he didn't teach you how to throw? DANNY (stung) I can throw. KURT You throw like a girl. Come on, hurt me, Danny. Don't be afraid. Danny throws with all his might. Kurt chuckles. KURT (cont'd) Is that the best you can do? Put your wrist into it. Kurt throws to Danny. Hard. The ball smacks into Danny's glove. It stings like hell. He yelps. DANNY Take it easy, Kurt. Danny throws the ball back to Kurt. KURT I am taking it easy. Kurt fires the ball back. Once again, stinging Danny's hand. KURT (cont'd) Now come on and try putting something on it. Danny just stands there glaring at Kurt, tears of rage and humiliation sting his eyes. DANNY I don't want to play anymore. KURT Suit yourself... Kurt turns and walks back to the house. Danny just stands there, angry, humiliated.
-- Darwin Mayflower.