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With: Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Mekhi Phifer, Tony Shalhoub, Elizabeth Pena
Written by: Caroline Case, Ehren Kruger, Scott Rosenberg, David Twohy, based on a story by Philip K. Dick
Directed by: Gary Fleder
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, some sensuality and language/R
Running Time: -99
Date: 12/04/2001

Impostor (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dick Flick

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Impostor needs all the help it can get. It's on the Dimension label, Miramax's B-movie wing, and it's coming out the first week in January, which means that the Weinstein brothers didn't have much faith in its ability to bring in business or round up critics' awards in December. What's more, the film has been finished and sitting on the shelf for more than a year.

But despite all that, Impostor steps up to the plate and hits, if not a home run, then at least a solid base hit.

Impostor is based on an interesting story by cult sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, whose works have contributed to at least three other movies: Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Screamers (1995). Those movies are still enjoyed by a cult of fans, and I suspect Impostor has the stuff to join them.

The story begins in the year 2079, when large electromagnetic domes protect our cities and keep out alien invaders. Scientist Spencer Oldham (Gary Sinise) wakes up in a pretty good mood, having just spent a romantic night with his wife, Dr. Maya Oldham (Madeleine Stowe). Later that evening, they're scheduled to meet with a high-ranking chancellor. Things couldn't be better.

Then Spencer finds himself zapped, strapped to a chair and accused of being an alien impostor who has taken over the real Spencer's body. A grim, sharply dressed, goateed fellow named Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio) questions him, trying to ascertain whether or not Spencer has a bomb concealed in his heart and targeted at the chancellor herself.

Spencer manages to escape and teams up with an outworld dweller named Cale (Mekhi Phifer). With Cale's help, Spencer can travel underground, get back into the city and run a test on himself at his wife's hospital to see if he's still 100 percent human. Meanwhile, Hathaway and his men are hot on his trail.

As if made in an earlier era, Impostor seems delightfully low-tech in its approach. The few futuristic machines and gizmos actually seem real and not computer-generated. One, a spidery medical scanning device, is particularly sinister. Otherwise, director Gary Fleder (Don't Say a Word and Kiss the Girls) keeps everything shadowy and moving quickly, similar to how Ridley Scott handled the comparatively low budget of Blade Runner.

Indeed, normally this kind of quick cutting and overuse of darkness would turn me off, but Impostor is not here to boast great action scenes -- it has a story to tell, an idea to get across. If this were a Gladiator or an Iron Monkey, I would ask more from the action scenes.

I should also mention that the wonderful Tony Shalhoub -- so good in The Man Who Wasn't There -- puts in a nice small appearance, as does the criminally underused Elizabeth Pena (Lone Star and Jacob's Ladder).

I'm not saying that Impostor will impress any rocket scientists. The dialogue, by four different writers ranging from Scott Rosenberg (Gone in 60 Seconds) to David Twohy (Pitch Black and The Arrival), sometimes sounds silly and the screenplay includes just a few plot holes and too-convenient twists. But that's all part of its wonderful B-movie charm. If you're as tired of Oscar fodder as I am, you'll be thankful that Impostor has finally arrived.

DVD Details: While the 95-minute, PG-13-rated version played in theaters, Miramax released a longer, 102-minute version on DVD with an R-rating.

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