Versatile Kerr, last spotted scaling the Himalaya in search of hominids and a CIA zealot (Esau, 1997), heads into Elmore Leonard territory in this amusingly overplotted thriller.
When he's finished serving his five years for a manslaughter he didn't commit, Dave Delano, with his earrings and Lucifer beard, looks a lot like a pirate, so it makes sense that he'd think of piracy as his way of getting back on the map. Dave knows that American mobsters have started to launder their drug money by hiding it in yachts being ferried across the Atlantic to the new, mob-infested Russia, and he sees no reason why some of that money shouldn't be his. Naked Tony Nudelli, the capo for whom Dave took the rap, agrees to the extent of staking Dave to a boat of his own, so that he'll have some cover for booking passage on the yacht-carrying Grand Duke and a minder, Tony's business manager Al Carnaro, "Colonel Tom Parker with guns and jokes." Dave's not to know, of course, that Tony and Al have ideas of their own, or that the comely lady Dave's about to fall for, Kate Furey, has a cover story as bogus as his own. As Dave plies his romance with Kate, an FBI agent on the transatlantic trail of a cocaine shipment her idiot boss, Kent Bowen, is convinced is aboard the Grand Duke, it's clear that something special is in store for the happy couple.
But they're so evenly matched as liars and banterers, so equally spirited and attractive, and so evenly handicapped by their sidekicks, murderous Al and troglodyte Kent, that you keep waiting, as Kerr unveils twist after twist (porn filmmaker shipmates, a nasty hurricane, an unexpected change in course), to see which of them will finally get the upperhand. It all makes for a heartlessly accurate, if synthetic, copy of Leonard at his most disarming and leaves you wondering just how many more voices Kerr has up his sleeve.