There have been far worse sci-fi films released in the month of January. 2000's
" 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.
©2002 by Dustin Putman