We’re deep in Roger Corman territory with “Impostor,” a cheesy sci-fi flick based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. In fact, Corman made a cable movie back in 1995 that shared numerous plot points with this one (though it made no mention of Dick’s paternity): “Suspect Device” starred C. Thomas Howell as a bewildered young man who suddenly becomes a non-person to friends and family and, it gradually becomes apparent, is a scientific experiment–a walking, talking nuclear bomb being pursued by the dastardly types who created him. In the present picture, set some seventy-eight years in the future when earth is at war with extraterrestrials called the Centauri, a prominent scientist, Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is arrested by an intelligence agent named Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio), who believes him to be an enemy replicant that’s replaced the murdered human and carries within him a bomb set to detonate when he gets near his preprogrammed target. Of course, the captured Olham (or whatever he is) escapes, and a long, tedious chase begins, with lots of vaguely existentialist “Who am I?” worrying along the way. There’s a big surprise ending that doesn’t prove much of one.
We’ve seen similar Dick-based stuff before in “Blade Runner” (1982) and “Total Recall” (1990), but both those films were far superior, not only because they were visually much more imaginative, but because each of them was made by a consequential director (the former by Ridley Scott, the latter by Paul Verhoeven). By comparison “Impostor” looks like a cheap knockoff, at many points not significantly better than direct-to-video fare, and helmer Gary Fleder is pretty much a hack. It should also be noted that Sinise is no Harrison Ford or Arnold Schwarzenegger; though he’s buffed up considerably, he’s hardly the likeliest action hero around, and his earnestness quickly grows dull. (He’s as implausible in the second portion of the picture as Big Ah-nold would have been as the brilliant scientist in the first.)
He’s not the only actor here who seems to be slumming. D’Onofrio hams it up beyond all measure as the stern, amoral Hathaway, and the participation of Madeleine Stowe, Tony Shalhoub, and Mekhi Phifer in uniformly thankless roles is something that should lead them to have a stern talking-to with their respective agents. All can at least be grateful for the fact that few viewers will see them in this turkey.
It should be noted that although “Impostor” is appearing after Fleder’s big-budget Michael Douglas bomb of last fall, “Don’t Say A Word,” it was actually made a good deal earlier. Like the recent “Texas Rangers,” this is one of those Miramax misfires that’s been gathering dust on the shelf for years. (Not long enough, though–the images are still visible.) Nonetheless one can be thankful that the studio reconsidered its original decision to release the picture on December 25, giving it one more postponement until early 2002. A holiday premiere would truly have been a cinematic lump of coal in our Christmas stockings.