Impostor

There is a lot to suggest that Impostor is an atrocious movie. It was unceremoniously dumped into theaters in early January. It was originally intended as a 40-minute short and then expanded into a full-length feature. These two warning signs turned out to be enough for the film to receive a sound critical trouncing from those who actually bothered to review it. I’m not sure why. This is decent, perfectly watchable science-fiction, reasonably well-made and featuring a formidable cast. I could see indications of post-production difficulties — major parts seem to be truncated, the pacing is seriously whack — but Impostor is never a chore.

It is the year 2079 and Earth is at war with a ruthless alien enemy. Dr. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) has invented a groundbreaking new weapon that will help humanity to victory. Shortly before the reception that will accompany its unveiling, Olham is apprehended by a CIA-type detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) who is convinced that the real Olham has been abducted and replaced by this impostor, a bomb in disguise that is set to explode when in proximity to this godsend of a weapon. An inch away from being executed (literally), Olham escapes and goes on the run, looking to prove that he is still human.

His plan is to sneak into his old lab and do a complete body scan that will show that he is his old self. To pull this off, he needs to evade a large-scale manhunt by navigating his way through the city’s underground maze. He enlists the help of tunnel rat Cale (Mekhi Phifer; strange to see him here after his tragic turn in O) by promising him a supply of drugs presumably available at the lab they would be breaking into. In the meantime, our detective is communicating via an overblown videophone with some sort of head honcho who threatens to shut down his operation.

Impostor was directed by Gary Fleder, an experienced director coming off such high-profile projects as Kiss the Girls and Don’t Say a Word. His work here, though appropriate to the material, is too frenetic and stylized; he is clearly trying to symbolize the descent into madness that his character is experiencing, but in doing so, he threatens to give his audience a migraine. The editing, which consists of jump cuts, jump cuts and more jump cuts, would have made Baz Luhrmann’s head spin. Well, maybe not.

Still, the filmmakers deserve credit for maintaining our interest in material that’s not very original or inherently fascinating. The central mystery — is he or isn’t he? — is too pedestrian to keep us in rapt attention (at least until the end) and most of the stars we really want to see are not given enough screentime (Tony Shalhoub, as Olham’s best buddy, has what? Ten minutes? I’d like to see what happened in the editing room to make poor Tony deserve such treatment).

The ending is surprising (though it may not surprise everyone) and ambiguous; I’d still like to know exactly what is the last line that Olham utters before the credits roll. Impostor doesn’t end with your typical triumphant shootout, opting instead for a unique, rather grim denoument. Those comparing it with Battlefield Earth should at least consider that.

Impostor will make a good rental in just a few short months, as it only lasted a couple of weeks in theatrical release. Like the ignored Ghosts of Mars last year, it’s good, solid, trashy sci-fi, and nothing less. It’s enough.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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Jonathan Levine, 2013

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Street of Chance

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