City Paper is not for tourists.
A portentous foreword explains that Impostor is based on a story by “visionary futurist” Philip K. Dick and that the tale was written in 1952. That latter fact should come as no surprise. With its autocratic identity cops and body-snatching alien threat, the scenario is clearly of McCarthy-era vintage. There’s nothing especially visionary about this vision of life in 2079, adapted by Scott Rosenberg and directed by Gary (Don’t Say a Word) Fleder from a script credited to Caroline Case, Ehren Kruger, and David Twohy. The movie’s dome-encased cities, flying buses, and intergalactic World War III are the future just the way it used to be. Protagonist Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is a peaceful man who became a high-tech weapons designer because his fighter-pilot dad was killed by the commies—I mean, the Alpha Centurions. His better half is a healer, Dr. Maya Olham (Madeleine Stowe in 12 Monkeys mode), who insists on burdening her hospital with as many space-battle casualties as it can possibly handle. Given that war is raging, the Olhams seem pretty content. Then internal-security agent Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio) arrives to accuse Spencer of being a bomb-packing cyborg who assumed the Earthling’s form to blow up Earth’s ruler (Lindsay Crouse in a fleeting appearance). Spencer doesn’t believe he’s a cyborg, but then he wouldn’t: Such infiltrators are programmed to believe that they are the people they impersonate. Despite an elaborate surveillance system that includes simcodes—ID chips implanted in all socialized Earthlings—Spencer finds it relatively easy to escape the high-security weapons lab where he works and find refuge in the shadowy, off-limits sanctuary of the Zone, home of Cale (Mekhi Phifer) and an unnamed amateur doctor (Elizabeth Peña); in the future, apparently, African-Americans and Latinos still live on the wrong side of the tracks. Cale helps Spencer return to the good part of town, where the hunted man seeks to contact his wife. But can Maya be trusted? For that matter, can Spencer? Fleder and a crack special-effects crew play effectively on that ambiguity, dispatching Spencer through psychotic flashbacks, hectic chases, and other dislocation dances. Despite the film’s ominous look and feel, however, the whole thing seems quaint, and the double-twist ending won’t blow the mind of anyone who’s seen a few Twilight Zones. Impostor looks good and moves well, but it has the soul of a ’50s B-movie.—Mark Jenkins