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Jack Goes Boating

Out to Sea

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Actors-turned-directors are still relatively rare in or out of Hollywood, but we can add Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman to that relatively short list. Taking the indie route, Hoffman’s feature-film debut as a director, Jack Goes Boating, an adaptation of Bob Glaudini’s stage play (Glaudini wrote the screenplay as well), takes a well-worn formula — four characters, two each in a romantic relationship, one at the beginning, one at (possibly) the end, and places them in a series of escalating conflicts, complications, reversals, and revelations, minus, unfortunately, the profundity this type of dramatic material demands.

As the title suggests, the central character, Jack (Hoffman), a sad-sack limo driver, wants to go boating. Jack Goes Boating answers the “why” early on: Jack, eager to solidify a tentative romantic relationship with Connie (Amy Ryan), a woman near middle age and similarly introspective disposition and, wants to take her on a boat ride in Central Park. That boat ride, however, is still months away, and before Jack can go boating, he has to overcome his lack of swimming skills.

Jack’s best friend and fellow limo driver, Clyde (John Ortiz), steps in to help Jack learn how to swim. Clyde’s marriage to Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) roils with spoken and unspoken tensions, partly tied to Clyde’s low social status and lack of drive to better his economic and social position, and Lucy’s inability to remain faithful. As flawed and flailing as Clyde and Lucy are, that doesn’t stop them from giving Jack romantic advice. Both relationships hit a turning point at a dinner party, prepared by the newly energized Jack, that includes Connie, Clyde, and Lucy.

Taking minimal risks for his first time behind the camera, Hoffman’s narrative and visual choices can be charitably described as pedestrian. From the undermotivated meet-and-greet between the socially awkward and uninteresting Jack, who’s central quirk involves an obsessive interest with the mellowing sounds of reggae and mini-dreads, to the socially awkward Connie, to Clyde and Lucy’s predictably disintegrating marriage, Jack Goes Boating falls far short of being the memorable debut Hoffman wanted.

If the drama and visuals disappoint, the performances don’t. John Ortiz, equal parts sympathetic and pathetic, gives Clyde a turbulent inner life. Daphne Rubin-Vega manages to make Lucy a step above the striving, self-interested caricature she could have been in the hands of a lesser actress. Amy Ryan, Oscar-nominated three years ago for Gone Baby Gone, gives a grounded, rounded performance. It’s Hoffman who gives the most disappointing performance in Jack Goes Boating, failing to make Jack an engaging, root-worthy character.

Whether Jack and Connie seal the deal and become a romantic couple never becomes a compelling question moviegoers will want answered. Ultimately, the fault lies with Glaudini’s undernourished and underwritten script, Hoffman’s poor choice in material, and, ultimately, his uninspired performance — one of the weakest of his career.