Impostor

| January 8, 2002

I walked into Impostor fully expecting it to suck. Rather close-minded thinking from a reviewer, you might say, but all things considered, I think a bit of trepidation on my part was more than justified. Admittedly, all was not doom and gloom. Impostor sprang from a sound source, so to speak. It was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” (the inspirations for Blade Runner and Total Recall, respectively). Unfortunately, that seemed to be the film’s only point of favor in the midst of many sizable obstacles.
Impostor has had more coming out dates than a debutant with Alzheimer’s. Originally slated for a release date in mid-August of 2000, it was bumped to early October of that same year–then to Spring of 2001…then to early Fall of 2001…then it was tossed way over to Spring of 2002 before calmer heads prevailed and reeled it back to a final release date of Christmas, 2001. Oops, just kidding–it was shoved around one more time, finally hitting theaters on January 4th. With each change of release date, the dread grew.
Additionally, Impostor was never meant to hit the big screen as a full-length movie. It was originally intended to serve as one-third of The Light Years Trilogy, a tercet of short films, each with its own director and cast. Impostor clocked in at half an hour, before Miramax requested that it be beefed up to feature length. Score one for the original incarnation of Impostor for being so impressive, but there’s something very unnerving about walking into a 96-minute movie when you know for a fact that the same story was told just as (if not more) effectively in 30 minutes.
Another reason for fearing Impostor was the fact that Gary Sinise was starring in it. Don’t get me wrong — the guy has done some great work, and I have the utmost respect for anybody who remains true to the stage when they’ve started pulling down the more financially lucrative big-screen gigs. That notwithstanding, though, the last three movies in which I saw him were Snake Eyes, Reindeer Games and Mission to Mars. It takes numerous viewings of Forrest Gump, Of Mice and Men and George Wallace to expunge the memory of that trifecta o’ stinkers. My fear of Impostor was born of just not knowing how the karmic Gary dice would fall.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, Impostor is a feature-length film that was pumped up from a 30-minute source, given half a dozen inaccurate release dates, and stars a wildly talented man who has been known to sign on to stinkers. At this point, as an audience member, you’re just rooting for it to beat the spread.
And it does.
The year is 2079. Earth has been involved in a decades-long conflict with the Centauri, a genetically-advanced race who have set their sights on our planet and who’ve been wiping the Milky Way with us left, right, and center. Sinise plays Spenser Olham, a brilliant scientist whose latest weapons innovation might be just what the doctor ordered to tip the scales in Earth’s favor. Unfortunately for Sinise, he’s suspected of having been replaced with a bomb-toting biological android, set to flash fry everything in sight once in the company of Earth’s Chancellor. He’s taken into custody by Major Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio), given no chance of defending or proving his humanity, and slated for messy heart removal (that is, after all, where the enemy androids hide their bombs).
Sinise escapes Hathaway’s clutches and the chase begins. There’s a medical test that can offer the conclusive proof as to Sinise’s humanity (or lack thereof), but it must be done in the hospital at which his wife, Maya Olham (Madeleine Stowe), is employed — thus rendering it The Most Defended Place on the Map. She, of course, Isn’t Sure What To Think, as is so often the case when the good guy gets marginalized by the unthinking authorities.
Sinise gets the hell outta Dodge and escapes the city’s defensive electromagnetic barrier to lay low and see how the other half lives. He pairs up with Cale (Mekhi Phifer) the inevitable street-smart stereotype-shattering character who teaches lily-white Sinise (who may or may not be a murderous robot, remember) about the danger in rendering unfounded opinions. This character, and whole chase portion of the movie during which they work together, feels suspiciously like it was part of the add-on when Impostor was being beefed up to feature film length. Qué será será, folks.
Near the end of the film, there are a couple jumps in the logic of the world established in the script which I was unable to untangle with my friend in our post-movie chat. Not having read the original story from which Impostor came, though, I can’t say whether the ambiguity was present in the source material or if it was shuffled in there by the filmmakers.
I’m still not quite sure why I didn’t hate Impostor. Perhaps it was a case of walking in expecting absolutely nothing of merit, and being impressed by modest returns that wouldn’t have registered on a viewer’s radar had they been put forth by a wildly hyped film (i.e. Pearl Harbor). Maybe reviewers fell into a feeding frenzy of sorts, spurned to madness by the antipathy felt by the first of their ranks to post or publish their reviews, and didn’t give it the credit it deserved. Or maybe this film really was as horrible as it was made out to be, and I’m suffering from the same sort of mental aberration that allowed me to enjoy Ravenous so thoroughly.
See this one for the price of a matinee ticket, if you can arrange it, just in case I’m off-base.

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