The Impostors

The Impostors movie poster


Stan­ley Tucci’s The Impos­tors (1998) is with­out a doubt one of the fun­ni­est and most purely enjoy­able movies I’ve ever seen. And that’s really say­ing some­thing, con­sid­er­ing its milieu is the job­less­ness, des­per­a­tion, and loom­ing inter­na­tional con­flict of The Great Depres­sion. Baldly com­posed as a lov­ing homage to old-school Hol­ly­wood screw­ball come­dies, it has the feel of a filmed stage play like Peter Bogdanovich’s Noises Off (1992) crossed with the loosey-goosey, making-it-up-as-they-go-along feel of a Marks Broth­ers or Lau­rel & Hardy romp. The pro­duc­tion val­ues may be frankly rather cheap, but it turns its bud­get into a virtue as the same sets are redressed over and over to amus­ing effect, and finally as the entire soundstage-bound façade is unveiled dur­ing a cel­e­bra­tory dance num­ber that breaks the fourth wall. Refresh­ingly, The Impos­tors is an affec­tion­ate pas­tiche, and not satiric or ironic in the least.

Olive Platt and Stanley Tucci in The Impostors“To life… and its many deaths.”

The free­wheel­ing farce is above all a love let­ter to the craft of act­ing. Arthur (Tucci) and Mau­rice (Oliver Platt) are two per­pet­u­ally out-of-work actors so enam­ored of their cho­sen pro­fes­sion that they will not con­sider pur­su­ing any other line of work even when faced with star­va­tion. Their daily rou­tine con­sists of stag­ing act­ing exer­cises for them­selves in pub­lic, dup­ing passersby into serv­ing as their par­tic­i­pa­tory audi­ence, like a pro­to­type of modern-day pranksters Improv Every­where. An esca­lat­ing series of mis­ad­ven­tures finally deliv­ers them into a sce­nario in which their act­ing skills for once become use­ful: the oppor­tu­nity to por­tray fab­u­lously rich cruise ship pas­sen­gers, to save the day, and of course to die mag­nif­i­cently heart­break­ing deaths while doing so. One could argue that what Arthur and Mau­rice want, even more than to eat, is the oppor­tu­nity to die in front of an audi­ence. It’s worth not­ing that most of the legit­i­mate pas­sen­gers are any­thing but; most have either lost for­tunes dur­ing the Depres­sion, are con­spir­ing to steal new ones, or plot to wreak ter­ror­ist havoc in the name of fascism.

Lili Taylor and Campbell Scott in The Impostors“The dan­ger of the chase has made you per­spire. It has made me also… moist.”

Tucci’s paean to act­ing attracted an ensem­ble cast to die for, includ­ing a dream team of 1990s indie super­stars includ­ing Lily Tay­lor, Steve Buscemi, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Tony Shal­houb, and Camp­bell Scott (who shame­lessly steals and runs away with the movie with a sub­limely odd char­ac­ter that answers the unasked ques­tion: what if Mar­vin the Mar­t­ian were a lovestruck Nazi?). A great many oth­ers would achieve greater fame later: Ali­son Jan­ney (The West Wing), Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), Michael Emmer­son (Lost), and Richard Jenk­ins (The Vis­i­tor — read The Dork Report review). And there’s still room in the souf­flé for wild­cards like Scot­tish come­dian Billy Con­nolly and a cameo by a manic Woody Allen in a super­flu­ous (but still funny) skit.

Sadly, The Impos­tors was not nearly as much of a crit­i­cal or com­mer­cial suc­cess as Tucci and Scott’s acclaimed Big Night (1996), which may or may not have any­thing to do with the fact that Tucci has only directed two films since (Joe Gould’s Secret in 2000 and Blind Date in 2008). Let’s hope he and Big Night co-director Scott con­spire again soon in the future.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.