on April 13, 2001 by Chris Wiegand
   Joe Mantegna makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of David Mamet's semi-autobiographical play, first produced some 20 years ago. Adapted for the screen and brought up to date by the playwright himself, the almost entirely all-male cast includes a slew of perfect Mamet actors, with his own younger brother Tony playing his onscreen surrogate. Helmed by Mantegna, associated with Mamet since his appearance in “House Of Games,” this is in many ways an archetypal Mamet production, yet it lacks the bite, big star appeal and commercial potential of the man's own recent self-directed hits “Heist” and “State And Main.”

   Mamet Junior gives an understated, sympathetic performance as Dale, a fresh-faced college kid who spends his summer onboard a freight ship in the company of a hard-drinking, hard-talking crew. In the manner of literary classics such as “The Canterbury Tales,” the ship's voyage offers the opportunity for plenty of storytelling. “Lakeboat” consists primarily of a series of stories told by the crew members, from the grisly Skippy (Charles Durning) and oddball fireman (Denis Leary) to Dale's father figure (Robert Forster) and the charismatic Collins (George Wendt).

   Their stories are played out on the screen and intercut with the background narrative of the ship's journey. They are also accompanied by a number of conflicting, humorous accounts of what may have happened to the ship's absent chef, played by an uncredited Andy Garcia.

   “Lakeboat” is for the most part a lot of fun, with some fine performances from a mature cast. Forster is especially good as the jaded and melancholic Joe, who has spent over 30 years working around the Great Lakes, and is reminded by Dale of his own distant youth. Mantegna's direction is reasonably restrained and he uses the ship's interiors well. Aside from some rather jarring shots of the ship at sea, accompanied by an overly majestic orchestral score, he seems to recognize that “Lakeboat” is a small affair. It's a slight, occasionally schmaltzy study of the male psyche, hinting occasionally at the potential that its young writer would go on to fulfill.    Starring Charles Durning, Peter Falk, Robert Forster, Denis Leary, Tony Mamet and George Wendt. Directed by Joe Mantegna. Written by David Mamet. Produced by Eric R. Epperson. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 98 min.

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