Impostor (2002)
Impostor (2002)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: January 4th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Gary Fleder Actors: Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub, Mekhi Phifer, Gary Dourdan, Tim Guinee, Lindsay Crouse




n the year 2050, six years after the first attack by the genetically superior, merciless, extraterrestrial invaders called the Centauri, Spencer John Olham (Gary Sinise) reminisces about the ongoing war. Humankind has lost the sky thanks to electromagnetic domes that shield the planet from frequent air raids (the atmosphere buzzes with spaceships and pollution and shimmering, cascading power surges); countless uncovered cities have been reduced to rubble; and democracy has been replaced by an authoritarian global leadership. And Spencer has lost his father to the enemy – one with no prospect of peace, as their goal is to utterly conquer Earth.

By the year 2079, Spencer has found salvation in his beautiful wife Maya June (Madeleine Stowe), who gives him a reason to live. The bleak, harsh architecture of the heavily-guarded buildings; the bland, grey uniforms; and the constant threat of annihilation aren’t enough to prevent Spencer from drifting off in the serenity of her smile. His work at “The Project” for Special Weapons Research isn’t terribly fulfilling, either, while best friend Nelson (Tony Shalhoub) contends with the monotony via general levity. Maya’s work as the Associate Director of the Veterans Hospital ICU is far more rewarding, keeping her constantly on the move and anxious to save lives.

Yet it’s Spencer’s seemingly uneventful routines that are radically upended when Major D.H. Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio), the leader of an Enemy Infiltration Unit for the feared ESA (Earth Security Agency), accuses the scientist of being one of the Centauri’s genetic cyborg assassins (at one point, dubbed a “replicant”), armed with an internal, organic bomb to be used at an upcoming meeting with the government’s chancellor. But how could he not be the man he thinks he is, complete with intimate memories and countless details of a life lived? Either way, he’s going to have to flee in order to get to the bottom of the authoritative allegation.

In this “Blade Runner” type of world, crossed with a touch of “Brazil” and “Total Recall,” the sci-fi elements are quite impressive (mixed with timeworn motifs, militaristic propaganda, and even ambiguous religion). Set designs, props, costumes, and technology (everything is voice-activated yet cold and clinical) are sharp and crisp; it’s a good-looking, believable vision of a harrowing, dystopian future. And being based on Philip K. Dick’s short story (“The Impostor”) from 1953 certainly gives it an edge with anguish and desperation; the fugitive-on-the-run premise may not be fresh, but it’s entirely engaging. Manipulating a sense of belonging and identity (alien brainwashing or psychotropic drugs?) grants a striking cinematic unease and sympathy for the protagonist.

Although this project was originally intended as one short segment for a television anthology, its expansion into a theatrical feature film isn’t all that apparent. Some of the computer animation is primitive, but it’s used sparingly; the practical visuals are more frequent and convincing. The hunt for the fugitive is fast-paced and action-packed, peppered with unnecessary slow-motion and blurring effects, yet intense and violent during shootouts and pursuits. In these moments, “Impostor” exhibits a “Minority Report” flavor (and, to a tinier degree, “Equilibrium”), despite the smaller budget and the lesser cast.

The story screams of typical apocalyptic perspectives on futuristic oppression, xenophobia, inescapable governmental monitoring, and societal disrepair; but the familiarity of these themes doesn’t detract from the entertainment value of a fragile underdog against overwhelming forces. There’s plenty of anticipation – and commotion – as Spencer strives to uncover the truth about his existence. And, sure enough, the answers aren’t revealed easily. When they finally are, they’re quite amusing.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10