Friday, May 7, 2010

Film Friday: Impostor (2002)

Impostor is a little-known movie staring Gary Sinise, Vincent D’Onofrio and Madeleine Stowe. It’s an enjoyable film for the most part, with excellent acting, good sets, and an engaging enough story. But it has a serious flaw that bothers me to no end, a flaw that is common to much science fiction: failure to think practically.

** spoiler alert **

Based on the Phillip K. Dick short story of the same name, Impostor is the story of scientist Spencer Olham as he struggles to prove he’s human. The story is set in the near future at a time when the Earth is at war with an evil alien race. Oldham (Sinise) is developing a super weapon. The story begins as Oldham recounts his weekend get away with his wife to his best friend and fellow scientist Nelson (Tony Shalhoub). His wife Maya (Stowe) runs the local military hospital.

As Oldham and Nelson go about their business, which includes preparing for a formal visit from the Prime Minster, a security team shows up, led by Major Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio). Hathaway claims his security forces intercepted an alien transmission, which revealed that Sinise is a replicant, i.e. he’s an organic machine that has been grown to think, act, look and feel like Oldham. Moreover, these machines don't even know they're machines, they actually think they're the people they replaced. And deep inside each replicant is a nuclear bomb waiting to go off when the replicant comes into contact with their target -- though the bombs can't be detected until they are ready to explode. Essentially, these replicants are unsuspecting, nuclear suicide bombers.

Hathaway’s job is to catch these replicants before they activate and explode. Thus, he plans to cut Sinise open to remove the bomb before it can explode. But Sinise isn’t down with that plan, so he escapes. The rest of the movie involves Sinise running from Hathaway, trying to enlist the aid of his wife, and trying to get a full body medical scan done of his body so he can prove he's human. Along the way, he befriends Mekhi Phifer, who lives outside of the dome in the ghetto and who wants to steal medicine to help the people the government forgot.

I won’t tell you the ending because I think you might enjoy the movie and some of the twists and turns near the end. Sinise is a great actor who gives his all. D’Onofrio isn’t far behind. The effects are good, and interestingly, many of the ideas in this story also appear in Minority Report, another Phillip Dick story made into a movie in 2002.

So what’s the problem? The problem arises when you start thinking about how the aliens are using the replicants. Ostensibly, the aliens are using the replicants because they have no other way to reach targets on Earth because the Earthers built domes around their cities as soon as the war began. By replacing people with these suicide-bombing replicants, however, the aliens can destroy targets on Earth. And that’s the film’s hook.

But it’s also kind of stupid. These aliens have found a way to replace anyone and smuggle nuclear bombs anywhere on Earth. So they come up with an elaborate plan to replace Sinise, let him wander around for a couple days until he meets the Prime Minister and then blow up? Hello! These are nuclear bombs! Are these aliens stupid? Why not just replace a couple hundred janitors. Tell them to report for work. The moment they all clock in at 9:00 am, POOF. . . no more cities.

This is a problem that is particularly common to science fiction. Too many times, the writers focus on their one really cool idea and they never really think about the world that surrounds it or how rational people would use their idea. It’s Rube Goldbergian. It’s like the idea that the government does secret scientific testing at midnight on animals belonging to unsuspecting farmers in Montana. . . when they could just as easily buy a dozen cattle and do the same test in the comfort of a private lab. It’s like the idea that brilliant James Bond villains need to invent elaborate ways to kill Jimmy B. . . when they could just shoot him. Yes, it creates a plot point, but not a valid one.

I’m not saying the idea of nuclear replicants isn’t a good one. I think it is. It just didn’t make a lot of sense how the aliens used it.

Think rationally people, you’ll make better movies.

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10 comments:

MegaTroll said...

Thanks for the review. I saw this one and I liked it, but it was missing something, especially toward the ending. I had the same thought about the bombs. If they can sneak these things into cities, why do the whole plot, why not just blow up the cities and end the war?

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I sort of felt the same way about the movie and the plot. I like Philip Dick sci-fi stories, as well as most of the actors in this movie. But I struggled to get all the way through it, and pretty much forgot it as soon as it was over. Blade Runner used the replicant idea logically. This movie didn't.

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, Thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed it. My goal with these is not only to point out interesting movies -- which I think this is, but to talk about how they could have been better. . . ie. to get people talking.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I enjoyed it and thought it was worth watching and I think about it once in a while, but it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been.

I find that films based on Dick's works (which I think all have brilliant ideas and horrible execution) are very hit or miss. Some are great, some just kind of fall flat as undeveloped garbage. This landed between the two, better than most, but way short of what it could have been.

CrispyRice said...

LOL! I haven't seen this, though I am a huge "Blade Runner" fan. But you're so right about movie people doing stupid things and not thinking things through, especially sci-fi.

Argh, there was something I was watching the other day that did exactly that, too, and I can't think of it. I'll be back if I do.

And I'll put this on my Netflix queue, too. Thanks!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I think you'll like this. It's not a bad movie, it just could have been a lot better and it had some logic problems -- but not enough to keep you from enjoying the movie.

ScottDS said...

I'm a fan of Blade Runner and Minority Report (I also enjoy Total Recall though I haven't seen it in years)... but I have not seen this film. I guess I'll have to put it on the old Netflix queue.

When the film came out, all of the nerds at Aint It Cool News really enjoyed using D'onofrio's line from the TV spots: "He's got a bomb in his ribcage!"

Example: "Lord of the Rings would've been better if Frodo had a bomb in his ribcage!" and other such geekery.

Interesting enough (and IMDb confirms what I remember), this film was supposed to be a 40-minute segment in a 2-hour sci-fi anthology film. Obviously that never panned out. The other two films became Mimic (by Guillermo del Toro) and Alien Love Triangle (which I've never heard of).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's correct. It was originally supposed to be part of a trilogy, but that fell through.

I think you'll like it. It's a solid and enteraining film, despite my criticism.

Xeresa said...

I also got this DVD and basically agree with the commentary, but my only quibble was that I thought Vincent D'Onofrio was brilliant as Noah Hathaway with Gary Sinese running a close second.

I hated the ending because it made no sense! The character of Hathaway was too smart to fall for the lame trick of thinking that Sinise's character was an innocent dupe of his replicant wife.

That just didn't jell for me. Still I would recommend this movie despite its flaws as it was well-acted, exciting if you suspend all critical thinking,and had an interesting premise!

It certainly beats all those lame horror stories that masquerade as science fiction!

AndrewPrice said...

Xeresa, I agree. I thought Hathaway was too smart to do what he did at the end.

But that said, I still enjoy it. And I agree entirely that this was excellent science fiction compared to the horror movies that so often pass as science fiction today -- interesting premise, good execution, good sets and effects and excellent acting. Like I said somewhere above, it was good enough that I think about it occasionally and I've gone back to watch it several times.

Whether D'Onofrio or Sinise was better is a matter for debate, but in either event I can say that both were fantastic.

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