“Impostor” joins a notorious list of recent big budget debacles (Battlefield Earth, Soldier, Supernova) to be dumped unceremoniously into movie theaters with little publicity or build-up, and few screenings for critics. This is not a good sign. There are two possibilities. Either the studio just doesn’t want to take any chances of hurting their film’s immediate box office chances, or they’re ashamed of their product. Well, “Impostor” is a film with much to hide.
“Impostor” is basically a long series of action setups as we meet Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise), a government scientist accused of treason. Spencer, it turns out, is one of the key figures in a plot to battle his planet’s alien threat. One day Spencer’s a hero, now he’s a fugitive. What to do? Spencer tries to make contact with his wife (Madeleine Stowe) who works at a hospital, and offer the biological proof necessary to prove that he’s really Spencer. He also finds out that he has an assassin’s bomb lodged in his chest and you’re thinking, if the wife were found murdered and Spencer was framed, that would really complete the circle for poor Spencer. That’s the way films like this think.
“Impostor” is the kind of movie where you shout advice at the characters on screen, because we have so much more information than they do. If Sinise’s character had a brain his ordeal would be over in five minutes but instead the plot goes out of its way to introduce obstacles for him to stumble over. No wonder. “Impostor” was originally made into a 40-minute novella piece, now stretched out to feature length with endless padding. The movie goes round and round with the same strategy: Spencer makes a new discovery, then there’s a glitch and the cops are onto him and he narrowly escapes. In other words, the other 57 minutes.
“Impostor” is also really sloppy. Characters seem to know things they can’t possibly know, or haven’t been told of. Faces move in and out with little explanation and some of the dialogue feels like it’s referenced to scenes edited out of the film than the finished film itself. Do we really believe that someone as smart as Gary Sinise would fall for the conspiracy plot his character faces, and why wouldn’t the cops give him the benefit the doubt anyway, since, as a government scientist, Sinise would seem a likely target for manipulation or alien possession? Is an impenetrable shield around the planet actually going to stop really smart villains from finding some way to get in, regardless of if Sinise is a ticking bomb? Then again, if the futuristic cops were at all competent they would’ve killed Sinise, and it’s obvious, through endless close calls in the film, that Sinise is the indestructible man.
“Impostor” is probably proof that big effects in the sci-fi thriller genre are kind of useless without imagination and intelligence, which this genre seems to demand more than any other. But what happened here? Gary Fleder has made some exciting films(“Kiss the Girls,” “Things to do in Denver when you’re dead”), the cast is top notch led by seasoned pros Sinise and Vincent D’Onofrio, and the film’s technical credits are top drawer. Maybe the project was doomed from the start and there was nothing Fleder could do to save it.
“Impostor” was based on a short story by the sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick. And I suppose the thinking is that if the genre devotee crowd flock to see “Impostor,” it will make lots of money. Not if word gets out.