‘Impostor’ is a little too unbelievable

Impostor

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 4, 2002

2.5 stars

The year is 2079. For more than a decade, earthlings have battled an alien force that is stronger, smarter and more deadly than anything the human race has encountered. To protect themselves from further destruction, most of the planet has been covered by an electromagnetic force-field dome designed to prevent aliens from infiltrating earth and masquerading as human beings.

Based on the sci-fi short story by Philip K. Dick (whose previous novels served as the inspiration for “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”), “Impostor” is set up beautifully at the start. But when the film veers into Arnold Schwarzenegger territory, it falls flat.

Spencer Olham is a brilliant government scientist married to a physician. Their life together appears perfect. They take camping trips in the serene woods. They make love in a spacious, meticulous loft. They don’t have any children yet, but their shower, TV and stereo system understand their spoken commands.

Their lives are shaken when the secret police accuse Spencer of treason, arrest him and prepare to perform vivisection to extract a bomb they say is implanted in his heart. Spencer isn’t a man, they argue, but rather a replicant who killed the scientist, assumed his life and was biding his time until it was the right moment to detonate.

Is Spencer a cyborg bomb? Is he a man unjustly accused? Because it’s Gary Sinise playing the sympathetic role, the audience can’t help but believe it’s all a mistake. But no one really knows for sure. Not his wife, Maya, played by Madeleine Stowe with stoic grace. Nor his best friend, Nelson (Tony Shaloub). At times, Spencer isn’t even sure if he’s real.

The likable cast tries to make us believe in the plot, but you have to suspend your belief in reality big time to make it work.

For instance, each person is implanted at birth with a unique simcode in their spines, which serve as human barcodes. When they enter or leave a building, walk past certain intersections, ride public transportation etc., they are scanned. Authorities keep track of anyone, anywhere, any time. Big Brother never had it so good.

When Spencer tries to prove he’s a man, he goes to an underground clinic where he has his simcode extracted. Instead of ditching the code so the police won’t know where he is, Spencer carries his corky code around in a small tube he places in his pocket. Given the clinic’s meager facilities, it’s difficult to believe the staff had access to tubes sophisticated enough to shield the codes from the scanning sensors. And yet Spencer walks around completely undetected by the human LoJack system.

Sinise, who also co-produced the film, is an intelligent actor who sells his role in such a convincing way that we want to buy it. It doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t human. We don’t want him to die. The surprise ending is everything we expected but were not sure would actually happen.

The interior shots in the film ring true to what we imagine the future might look like–a clean, heightened version of what we have today. But Industrial Light and Magic’s exterior work is disappointing, giving the set an unsophisticated and fake feel.

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