Jerzy Skolimowski is such an imaginative filmmaker that even his minor works deserve notice. His latest, ``The Lightship,'' is minor with a vengeance, despite the high-powered presences of Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer in the leading roles. The allegorical action takes place on a ship that never sails, but stays anchored in one place as a floating lighthouse. The skipper of this craft, played by Brandauer in his first major role since ``Out of Africa,'' is a German seaman who may or may not have committed an act of cowardice while fighting (on the Allied side) in World War I. The villain of the piece is a smooth-talking psychopath, played by Duvall, who barges onto the lightship with some henchmen. He's on his way to some kind of rendezvous at sea, and when a fog makes him miss his appointment, he hunkers down to stay a while.
Somewhere along the way, he notices that the lightship isn't going anywhere, and decides to hoist the anchor -- giving it the ``freedom'' he's always prattling about, and causing destruction for the ships that rely on its light to steer them from dangerous waters.
This is a suspenseful situation, and Skolimowski tries to make the most of it, dramatically and artistically. Yet the film amounts to precious little. Most of the acting is weak, and Skolimowski surrounds the story with so many motion-picture acrobatics that he barely manages to keep his balance. One commends him for his boldness, but regrets how quickly ``The Lightship'' runs aground.