If "Drunkboat" understands anything, it's the louche intensity with which John Malkovich commands a frame, whether staring into space with a cigarette or teetering under the influence of Cutty Sark. In most other respects, though, this self-consciously mannered indie fails to ignite.
Adapted by co-writer/director Bob Meyer from his own autobiographical play, the story drops Malkovich's reformed-drunk Vietnam vet Mort at the suburban house of his long-estranged widower sister (Dana Delany) for a tenuously sober reconciliation. He's recently been in contact with her eldest son, who ran away from home, but she's unaware that the cheery teenager still under her roof (Jacob Zachar) is planning his own departure by buying a boat from a salvage dealer (John Goodman).
A tale of souls haunted by the missing, "Drunkboat" is well-meaning but hampered by a lack of focus. As soon as you warm to Delany's mournful, suspicious mom, her character vacates for half the picture, while the appealing simmer to Malkovich's grimly witty, sympathetic turn is too often broken up by visits to the pointless side story of Goodman's shady operation.
The burnished smear of Lisa Rinzler's photography is a plus, but "Drunkboat" is ultimately the kind of pet project that never traverses from personal to powerful.
"Drunkboat." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At AMC Burbank Town Center 8, Burbank.