Originally a 30 minute portion for an anthology film, Impostor was retooled into a full length feature film. Based on the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, it follows the lead character Spencer Olham's quest to regain his identity after being suspected as an alien android, in an future Earth at war with aliens that use the androids as bombs to destroy their enemies homeworlds.
Directed by: Gary Fleder
. Starring: Gary Sinise
, Madeleine Stowe
, Vincent D'Onofrio
, Tony Shalhoub
, Tim Guinee
, Mekhi Phifer
, Gary Dourdan
, Lindsay Crouse
, Elizabeth Peña
, Jason Beck
, Judy Jean Berns
, Veena Bidasha
, Ellen Bradley
. Music by: Mark Isham
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the author who write the source material for "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall", "Impostor" explores some of the same questions about the nature of human existence and memory as those
other movies, though not as thoroughly. The story itself was written in 1953, and its Cold War heritage can be glimpsed in its themes of overarching government, fanatical suspicion of an insidious enemy, and the scientist's fear of his own creation, which would have been at home in any "Twilight Zone" episode.
The year is 2079, and Earth's multinational government (uh-oh) is waging a war with some interstellar nasties from Alpha Centauri (whom you never glimpse, a nice touch). Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is a scientist working on "The Project", a massive weapon system that is supposed to tip the balance in the war, except that it's quickly forgotten so we can get to the main plot, which is sort of "Blade Runner" in reverse: Olham is suddenly arrested by a fanatical secret policeman (Vincent D'Onofrio), who declares that he is not Olham at all, but a cyborg implanted with a bomb and instructions to assassinate the Chancellor, the frosty dictator of Earth who vaguely resembles Hillary Clinton on an anger-management bender. Olham escapes, but is now a wanted man. Worse, the sedation serums the MG-Men injected into him are causing him to hallucinate, and his grip on reality is severely shaken by the whole thing. He flees into the Forbidden Zone (it ain't a dystopic sci-fi movie unless it's got one of those), where he links up less than willingly with an outland rebel (Mekhi Phifer), and tries to find evidence that will prove who he is.
The movie owes a lot to "Blade Runner", both in its plot and execution, but it lacks that movie's vividly realized future society and philosophical heft. "Impostor" has the feel of a short story, sharp but not particularly deep (its ending is less a coda than a punchline), and it plays skillfully with the paranoia element that is always present in Dick's work. It is helped here by the quality production design, and director Gary Fleder's feel for darkness and steam, as Sinise scrambles madly through pipes and access tunnels evading D'Onofrios stormtroopers with their Glock 18s and FN P90s a-blazing (Glock aficionados will be amused at a scene that hinges on the assertion that the things have external safeties. Whoops.) The major flaw of the story itself is its occasionally draggy pacing. Supposedly, "Impostor" was originally intended as part of a three-story anthology movie, but was expanded and given its own showcase. It was, perhaps, expanded a bit too much, and clumsily, as various ideas and questions are tossed around and hastily dropped.
Gary Sinise earns a lot of credibility for the movie, although his characteristic nasal voice and shifty expression make him more convincing as a half-crazed fugitive than a solid citizen. He also carries most of the movie's emotional load, since his character is the only one who manages to strike more than two emotional notes. Madeleine Stowe is particularly absent as Olham's doctor wife. Her character is obviously confused and overwhelmed by the hand fate and the screenwriter have dealt her, but Stowe never gives us anything else. Olham insists that his wife is his salvation, center, and muse, but we'll have to take his word for it. Similarly, as the Zoner who helps Olham, Mekhi Phifer doesn't lend his character much depth, though he, like all outland rebels in dark-future movies, turns out to be a tiresome scold. The fine Tony Shaloub (in third billing) is introduced as Olham's friend, and then is quickly tossed away.
But the most disappointing work comes from D'Onofrio, who takes what could be a fascinating character and makes nothing out of it. His Maj. Hathaway needs to balance out Sinise's Olham, and therefore requires a great deal more nuance and depth. He needs to be a bad guy who never doubts for a second that he's the good guy, and can, with charismatic ferocity, almost make you believe it (you can hear that in writer Scott Rosenberg's dialogue). D'Onofrio's over-mannered performance makes him a cardboard thug, which isn't as interesting, and doesn't fit into the end of the story as well. This part needed someone like, well, Gary Sinise, though I guess he was taken.
Its faults aside, "Impostor" is an effective little paranoid sci-fi thriller, despite its half-hearted pretensions that it is something more. Sci-fi movies live or die on their realization of the sci-fi setting, and "Impostor"'s setting, with Fleder's direction, Robert Elswit's eerie blue cinematography, and the production design by Nelson Coates, nails it quite well. From the gleaming cookie-cutter buildings draped with vague, ominous slogans ("For Our Children"; "There Is No Alternative") to the trash-strewn underbelly of the city and the crushed and dirty Forbidden Zone, "Impostor"'s world convinces, and is used to good effect.
And, it reminds us once again of that fundamental truth of life: though you may love and trust someone implicitly, that doesn't discount the possibility that they could be an evil alien robot waiting to fill you with lead the minute your back is turned, or even that you could be an evil alien robot yourself, and not even know it until the second you go off.
Review by pc_dean from the Internet Movie Database.