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Originally published Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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'Drunkboat': Excellent cast on choppy waters

A review of "Drunkboat," a moody coming-of-age film about an obsessive teenager whose chief father figure is an alcoholic uncle and Vietnam vet.

Special to the Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Drunkboat,' with Jacob Zachar, John Malkovich, Dana Delany, John Goodman. Directed by Bob Meyer, from a script by Meyer and Randy Buescher. 98 minutes. No rating; includes profanity. Pacific Place Cinemas.

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Inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's despairing poem, "The Drunken Boat," this enigmatic coming-of-age movie often seems destined to sail off the deep end. Yet it rights itself just often enough to keep you watching.

That's partly due to a first-rate cast that includes John Malkovich as an alcoholic Vietnam vet named Mort; Dana Delany as his wary and exasperated sister, Eileen; Jacob Zachar as her obsessed teenage son, Abe; and John Goodman as a sailboat-repair man, Mr. Fletcher, who literally lives on Cutty Sark.

When Mort witnesses the beating of a hitchhiker, he tracks down the family he's lost over a period of 20 years. Although his sister may not trust him because of his addictions, he soon finds himself taking a parental role.

She did, after all, raise her son with the help of the fantasies collected in "a pretty good book" Mort wrote long in the past. Just how much does Mort's fiction drive Abe's reality? And how much does the war, seemingly so far in the past, play a part in all of their lives?

Director Bob Meyer, adapting a play he wrote with Randy Buescher, uses home movies, evocative music and dreamy effects to suggest answers to some of these questions. But while the script appears to have a clear anti-war agenda, it rarely turns preachy or simplistic.

Filmed in Chicago, "Drunkboat" had its premiere two years ago at the Chicago International Film Festival. It's the kind of interesting, moody, boundary-pushing film that often falls through the cracks.

John Hartl@yahoo.com

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