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2002 - PG-13 - 95 Mins.
Director: Gary Fleder
Producer: Gary Fleder, Gary Sinise
Written By: Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub
Review by: Marc Eastman
We all know that apart from a few film-makers that stand out, Hollywood is out of ideas. If we didn’t have enough proof of this, witness ‘Girl Gone Wild - The Movie’ currently in production. Being that Hollywood is in such state, and has been for some time, when it finds a source of ideas that works fairly well, and that it gets to say is intelligent, it tries to get everything it can from that source. ‘Impostor’ is yet another film based on the work of Philip K. Dick.

The problem with this particular font of plots is that Dick’s work actually is intelligent (more intelligent than most people making the films), and he mainly writes short-stories. Some so short as to push the limits of applying the term. That means you’re going to end up with a lot of strange uses of the phrase ‘based on a story by...’, as if there weren’t enough already. From movies that prove the film’s creators have been hopelessly outwitted by the original text (‘Minority Report’), to films that really have nothing to do with the original story because the thing is only about six pages long (‘Total Recall’), to films that are stuffed with filling because there isn’t enough to quite get a whole movie out of (‘Impostor’).

Still, when done right, or pretty close to right (‘Blade Runner’) it’s worth it, and something that at least has some connection to intelligence is better than most of what we get. So we keep going to see these movies (though no one went to see this one), even though we know they don’t work that often. We’ll try our best to have high hopes for ‘Paycheck’, the John Woo/Ben Affleck go at the sci-fi master, when filming starts in March 2003.

‘Impostor’ really only has two things working against it. Unfortunately, they’re two big things. First, the project was changed mid-stream. This was originally meant to be one story within a three story production, and it was only going to be about forty minutes long. At some point it was decided that the creation was worthy of being its own full-length feature. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but not enough effort was put into the expansion. The DVD includes the original version (sort of), and another twenty minutes added might have made it something superb, but the full-length version is too much.

The possibility certainly exists for making a feature-length film out of the story, but here we come to the film’s second problem, Scott Rosenberg. Rosenberg, credited with several masterpieces of screenwriting, including: ‘Con Air’, ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’, and ‘Kangaroo Jack’, is surprisingly capable of producing a screenplay that transfers what there is of Dick’s work. Going that extra step in order to fill up an extra hour, however, is something he ought to have been smart enough not to attempt.

‘Impostor’ is based on one of the works that truly defines Dick. A spin on the old (relatively) question about how we can really know if the person who steps out of the other end of the transporter is really ‘you’. Turning on the demonstration tape, the transporter salesman tries to assure you. “You see,” he says with a wink and a Ting! of his smile, “the person who came out the other side had all the same memories, believed he was the same person, and was the same in every physical way.” He slides a contract toward you as he continues, “Now, don’t you want to get in?”

“No!” you shout. “Once you take all my atoms apart, I’m dead. I don’t care if that thing on the other end has all my memories, I’m dead.”

In ‘Impostor’, we follow a few days in the life of Spence Olham (Gary Sinise), who may or may not have been through a transporter. Olham lives several decades in the future, and in his time the earth is at war with another race from deep space. As defense to orbital bombardments, the cities of the world exist under energy domes. It’s a strangely bleak future, where war is everywhere, yet life goes on fairly well. Olham, however, has several personal connections to the war, and he’s about to get another one.

Olham’s father was a pilot killed in the war, for a start. He works to develop weapons for the war effort, and his wife is an important doctor at a nearby hospital, so she sees the effects of the war. He arrives at work one day to have his newest connection thrown at him rather unceremoniously. He meets Major Hatthaway (Vincent D’Onofrio), and we quickly have the idea thrust at us, in gruesome terms, that Olham might not actually be Olham.

The space enemies apparently have the ability to make perfect copies of people complete with memories. These copies have bombs in their chests that detonate when the copy gets close enough to its target. In every other way the copies ‘are’ the person they copy, they don’t know they’re clones, and are completely convinced that they are simply the person in question.

That’s our story in a nutshell. We take a fairly detailed look at an attempt to answer what is basically the exact same question, just with a further, ‘more sci-fi’ spin. ‘Identity crisis’ takes on a whole new meaning as we are given every proof of identity we can possibly think of, but they are all dismissed as not being enough proof.

Like all Dick movies gone wrong, the movie turns into little more than a glorified chase movie. This one actually has a legitimate claim to being a chase story, as the original work has a bit of chase going on, but the movie loses its focus on the question throughout the middle segments where Rosenberg has clearly given it the ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ treatment. Olham’s wife (Madeline Stowe) is all but written out of the middle of the movie, her only appearances being brief glimpses on the vidphone. While some time devoted to quick fix, additional character Cale (Mekhi Phifer - Â Mile’, ‘Brian’s Song’, ‘E.R.’) makes sense, his character is curiously well-developed when compared to the two characters that might get us somewhere. In order to fill out the movie, we’ve oddly moved away from its point.

Nothing about the direction is breathtaking, but Gary Fleder (‘Thing to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’, ‘Kiss the Girls’, ‘Don’t Say a Word’) gives hints that he is improving his game. A few shots and scenes stand out as being very intelligent choices. From an acting standpoint, it’s difficult to be convincing in saying Fleder’s really running the show. Sinise is excellent, and in the few scenes that he is allowed to actually explore the ideas behind the movie, he delivers powerfully. D’Onofrio is not bad, but in his usual fashion he goes one step (at least) beyond his character, and Fleder certainly isn’t reigning him in. Be that as it may, the problems here are all of the writing variety. D’Onofrio may go too far with his character, but his character plays more of a role than he ought to anyway.

A famous author once said (something like), “When in doubt, have two guys burst through the door, guns blazing.” That’s just the sort of writing we’ve got working for us here. When in doubt, use the old ‘stick the tracking device on the guy tracking you’ trick. Need to fill some time? Just make the fairly meaningless ‘bad guy’ really, really bad.

Even with all its flaws, it at least leaves the meat of the story intact. You get the whole question, and the whole, actual question. You just get a whole lot more besides. It doesn’t work, but at least it’s something good not working, instead of the other way. The story doesn’t play out in a way that makes it as intriguing, or as thought-provoking as the original work, but at least it hasn’t been dumbed-down into the realm of utter uselessness (like a certain movie everyone loves). Besides, Tony Shalhoub got a paycheck.

The final result is something that’s three stars, but it’s a pretty good three stars.
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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