There have been far worse sci-fi films released in the month of January. 2000's
incomprehensible "Supernova" and, to a lesser extent, 1999's "Virus,"
hold such dubious distinctions. That isn't to say, however, that
"Impostor" is something to write home about, because it isn't.
The film, made in 1999, has had quite a checkered past. Originally
meant to be one 40-minute section of an anthology entitled "Alien
Love Triangle," that feature was later scrapped, and "Impostor," under
the helm of Gary Fleder (2001's "Don't Say a Word"), was put back
into production to develop its story and characters into a 90-minute
concoction. Since then, the release date has been shifted by Dimension
Films (much like "Texas Rangers" last fall) for nearly two years.
Choosing the first weekend of the new year to open your film not only
signals a studio's lack of faith, but is also just asking for trouble at the box office.
Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick (whose work has also been
adapted into the more successful "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall"),
the picture opens in 2079, where the war-torn Earth is currently in
a battle with a deadly alien race from the planet Alpha Centauri.
Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise), a weapons specialist, is a human inhabitant
of Earth who has a joyous relationship with his doctor wife, Maya
(Madeleine Stowe). While at work one day, Spencer is visited by Hathaway
(Vincent D'Onofrio), a world government investigator who informs him
that he is a mechanized replica of his former self with a catastrophic
ticking bomb in his body. Believing that they have made ahorrible
mistake, Spencer goes on the run from the authorities who want him
dead, all the while desperate to find his true love--Maya.
With an absorbing, if imitative, premise that harkens back to everything
from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (the 1956, 1978, and 1993 versions)
to 1993's "The Fugitive," "Impostor" lacks the vision and scope of
a film worthy of theatrical release. The reasonably low budget of
the production becomes apparent quickly, with visual effects that
have "direct-to-video" written all over them and dark, murky sets
filling up the frames. An absence of thorough establishing shots depicting
what the planet looks like as the 21st-century comes to a close are also vitally missing.
In some ways, director Gary Fleder injects enough energy into the
provocative story to flag one's attention for a while. While the several
fighting sequences are confusingly shot and choreographed, the life-threatening
plight of Spencer remains an involving one. He is developed enough
in the prologue (we see him as an amiable child in more peaceful times),
and the love he and Maya share is believable enough, that the fate
of Spencer becomes more important than it could have been with a more
cursory treatment of him.
Proving that the movie was supposed to be less than half as long as
its current state, acting talent can be seen from all angles, even
if their performances aren't up to their stronger work. Gary Sinise
(2000's "Mission to Mars"), taking a leap to leading man status following
his usual supporting roles, adequately relays the desperation of Spencer
as he grapples with the possibility that he may unknowingly be a machine.
Sinise does not knock the ball out of the park, but he suffices.
More effective is Madeleine Stowe (1999's "The General's Daughter"), a radiant, if
underseen, actress who revitalizes Maya as a person worth caring about--even
more so than Spencer. As for Vincent D'Onofrio (2000's "The Cell"),
he threatens to overly camp his scenes up, but has a gripping enough
presence to give Hathaway the appropriate authority needed. Mekhi
Phifer (2001's "O"), as a refugee who befriends Spencer; Tony Shalhoub
(2001's "Thirteen Ghosts"), as Spencer's ill-fated best friend; and
Lindsay Crouse (1999's "The Insider"), as the appointed Chancellor
who is believed to be the target of Spencer's replica, fill up the
underwritten supporting roles.
The grim twist ending is surely an intrepid one, making "Impostor"
almost worth seeing. The startling final five minutes, though, simply
cannot save the film from appearing to be little more than a television
episode of "The Outer Limits" or "The Twilight Zone." "Impostor" may
not be the cinematic abortion I had expected, but it does resemble
a C-section--the outcome turns out just fine, but it still leaves
a big, old mess in its wake.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman