Since his return to favour with 1994's "Pulp Fiction", John Travolta's performance pendulum has swung mostly between Darkly Hip and Morally Noble. Now, playing an ex-alcoholic divorcee whose son may be in mortal danger from his stepfather, it hangs weakly over the chasm known as Utterly Bland.
Joining Travolta in this perilous situation is director Harold Becker. Having directed such effective thrillers as "Sea of Love" and "Malice", he should have been well aware of the genre's mechanics and avoided a leaden mess like this.
Armed with the standard Hollywood perception that all stepparents are dormant psychopaths, we find Travolta's pre-teen son Danny (O'Leary) claiming that his stepdad Rick Barnes (Vaughn) has committed murder. Perception two, that all adults are half-wits, kicks in when no one believes him - prone as he is to lying. Slowly, Travolta's lumbering nice guy, Frank Morrison, pieces together the evidence that Barnes is not a Model Dad.
The first half, to its credit, does effectively portray parental anxiety when the kid goes off the rails, but all that soon disappears in a fog of by-the-numbers clichés, unbelievable coincidences, and blatant theft from Hitchcock. Becker even has the audacity to invoke a Bernard Herrmann-like string score, which isn't so much a safety valve as an outright execution switch.
While Travolta is clearly guilty of phoning his performance in, Vaughn certainly has a knack for moral ambiguity and simmering menace - so why waste it with a bunch of low-rent psycho tics later on? Class does get a look in, though, with the all-too-brief appearance of Steve Buscemi, whose talent for scene theft borders on virtuoso. Otherwise, this is a bad day at the office for most concerned.
See a clip from the movie.