Director: Bob Meyer
Starring: John Malkovich, John Goodman, Dana Delaney, Jim Ortlieb, Jacob Zachar
It’s perhaps something of a nautically-titled coincidence, the meandering nature and theatrical roots that “Drunkboat” share with “Jack Goes Boating,” Philip Seymour Hoffman’s 2010 directorial debut. But both movies represent personal passion projects ill suited to cinematic adaptation, or at least sludgy, unresolved, mannered and grating in their realized incarnations.
“Drunkboat” centers around a down-and-out Vietnam veteran and drunkard, Mort (John Malkovich), who has an epiphany of sorts when he glimpses a relative while in a stupor. He subsequently returns to his childhood home in the Chicago suburbs, where his sister Eileen (Dana Delaney) still lives with her son and Mort’s other nephew, Abe (Jacob Zachar). She’s at first distrustful and suspicious of his newfound and fragile sobriety, but eventually leaves him in charge of Abe to go on a date out of town. With dreams of busting out of this sleepy one-horse burgh, teenager Abe has dreams of… buying a boat? Yep. And his desires dovetail with the latest scheme of con man and salvage dealer Fletcher (John Goodman), who’s puttied and painted up a heap of wooden maritime garbage with an eye on unloading it for a couple hundred bucks. Abe is interested, but needs an adult signature on the bill of sale.
“Drunkboat” is directed by Bob Meyer, and co-adapted from his own (apparently semi-autobiographical) stageplay of the same name. Its music occasionally seems to posit that the movie is some sort of vaudevillian comedy, and Fletcher is written as a comedic figure as well. But the movie is a stilted, tonal mishmash, and its insights are spare. “Drunkboat” toggles listlessly between the conceptual and specific, never successfully translating to screen ideas that might connect more readily on stage, in the abstract.
As an alcoholic ex-poet teetering on the edge of self-destruction, Malkovich is great — his performance is a showcase for what Robert Abele aptly calls the actor’s “louche intensity” in his review for the “Los Angeles Times” — lost in a boozy self-reflection laced with notes of pained regret. Naturalistic and reactive, Zachar is also good. But Goodman grates, and the movie invests a regrettable amount of time in his pointless shenanigans.
Many other films assay the slippery qualities of drunkenness and repentance in far more arresting fashion. “Drunkboat” unfortunately just ambles along, in languid fashion.
Written by: Brent Simon