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'Impostor' is a murky look into our replicant future

Friday, January 04, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Among the things we learned at the movies: The future is a really dark place. Literally.


RATING: PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, some sensuality and language

STARRING: Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe

DIRECTOR: Gary Fleder

WEB SITE: www.dimensionfilms.com



You would think that by the year 2079, when you can command your shower to supply more hot water or cue John Lee Hooker tunes, that someone would figure out how to light the world. That way we could see what the heck is going on in "Impostor," a futuristic thriller based on a 1950s short story by Philip K. Dick.

The shadowy tunnels, darkened abandoned apartments and dim hospital corridors are meant to be symbolic of an internal struggle being waged by Gary Sinise's character, but the result is eye-straining. Or maybe it's that the film throws information and characters at the moviegoers as if traveling at Mach 10 speed -- with an alarm, or ending, ready to sound at 95 minutes.

Sinise plays Spencer Olham, a government scientist living in a very different world than the one we know today. Earth is under attack by Alpha Centauri aliens and by 2050, many things have vanished -- including the sky, now hidden under a huge protective dome, and democracy.

As a boy, Spencer built rockets, but once his father died in battle he grew into a man who builds weapons. He is married to a physician (Madeleine Stowe), and they appear to have a loving, lusty relationship. Life as he knows it changes one day when he is accused of being a replicant who looks like Spencer and talks like Spencer but is an alien with a bomb built into the center of his chest. In a world where packed airplanes and shoes are fashioned into explosives, it's a disquieting premise.

As Spencer tries to prove he's man and not machine, he is pursued by a strutting, intense agent (Vincent D'Onofrio) who makes Inspector Javert from "Les Miserables" look like a slacker. Spencer finds an ally in society's underworld, even as he tries to prove he is not a cyborg. Or is he?

Questions at the heart of "Impostor" -- such as "What makes us human?" -- are lost amid what degenerates into a chase movie that doesn't always make sense. Sinise is a terrific actor, but "Impostor" barely introduces us to Spencer before we're being asked to weigh whether he is an alien assassin. He may not be played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he can shoot three men at once and elude scores of troopers.

The humanity is lost amid the high-tech toys of the future, such as video phones and implants that allow people to be tracked and identified. "Impostor," which is a pretty violent and disturbing PG-13, takes a short story and dresses it up -- mucks it up, really -- with music, moody settings and the predictable surprise twists.

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