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Lakeboat Reviews

The same old Mamet stuff, and not even top-drawer Mamet. Actor-turned-director Joe Mantegna isn't to blame — he stages scenes professionally and gets performances from his cast that are, by and large, less mannered than those favored by Mamet himself. And if anyone knows Mamet's rhythms, it's Mantegna: A member of the playwright's "Chicago Mafia," Mantegna has performed numerous Mamet roles on screen and stage (he won a Tony for Glengarry Glen Ross). But his film feels like a parody of Mamet mannerisms, and the trouble lies with the play, which Mamet first penned some 25 years for an Actors Equity showcase. Inspired by a summer he spent toiling on a freighter, the play is thin and predictable, with none of the visceral power that juices up his best writing. Mamet's screen stand-in is Dale (younger brother Tony Mamet, also one of the film's producers), who's signed up for a gig on the Seaway Queen, which ferries steel from Chicago to Canada across the Great Lakes. Not only is Dale a landlubber among veteran sailors, but he's also a soft-bellied grad student surrounded by hardened old guys who've been sucker punched by life. Once Dale gets past the swagger, sexual bravado and compulsively foul language, however, he discovers their essential decency: Boastful Fred (Jack Wallace) still pines for his ex-wife, while leathery Joe Litko (Robert Forster) once wanted to be a ballet dancer. The captain (Charles Durning) and first mate (George Wendt) are big old softies (emphasis on the big). Even snarling Stan (J.J. Johnston) and the truculent Fireman (Denis Leary) — the only other guy under the age of 50 on board — are more bark than bite. Since there's nowhere to go, the crew spend most of their time sitting around and talking the Mamet talk, about broads, guns, whether Steven Seagal is a wussy, and the fate of ship's cook Guigliani (Andy Garcia), whom Dale replaced. Guigliani got himself into trouble on shore leave; whether he was rolled by a hooker, worked over by the Mafia or busted by the cops depends on whose version you hear. And frankly, the glistening B&W variations on Guigliani's story are more engaging than Dale's familiar transformation from callow youth to tough guy in training.