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The Impostors

by Yoda
posted on 10/11/07
The Impostors (1998)

"The time has come to act."

Stanley Tucci has certainly been around. His first acting credit came 22 years ago, and he's been very prolific, often landing at least bit roles in several productions virtually every year. I'd have to imagine he's established a lot of contacts in the industry, too, because when he creates his own films, he seems able to attract some very impressive ensemble casts. The Impostors is just such a movie.

Written and directed by Tucci (who also stars), it was released two years after Big Night, another overlooked film he wrote, directed and starred in. Set in the 1930s, it's a love letter to the entire industry; particularly, its history. There's at least one obvious reference to the Marx Brothers, and I'm sure more eagle-eyed viewers than myself will spot many more.

Tucci plays a struggling actor named Arthur, and lives with another struggling actor named Maurice (Oliver Platt). Neither of them are all that good; everything they do resembles a caricature, and it's always unintentional. Still, they love their craft, and seem to think of nothing else, except for maybe where their next meal is coming from. Naturally they combine the two, and in the earlygoing try to use their acting to con a local baker out of some pastries in one of the film's most hysterical sequences.

Long story short, they anger a more accomplished actor and find themselves as stowaways on a ship (The titlecard when they learn of this is: "An Ocean Liner?!"). To avoid detection they disguise themselves as baggage handlers. On this ship, we meet the rest of the cast, all of whom get to ham it up in roles well within their considerable talents. They don't just chew on the scenery; they swallow it whole.

"Do you know the gentleman who stole your wife?"
"He was my agent."
"Some agent!"
"He was a great agent. I loved him like a brother, I loved my wife like a mother and a hooker!"

The film is populated by an array of character actors. Other than Tucci and Platt, the cast includes (deep breath): Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Isabella Rossellini, Billy Connolly, Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins, Hope Davis, Dana Ivey, and Lili Taylor, among others. Oh, and Woody Allen has a cameo.

The film never dares to take itself too seriously, even when a plot to blow the ship up is revealed. Every single character has an easily identified (and always fun) gimmick; Steve Buscemi plays a suicidal lounge singer, Tony Shalhoub plays a Communist revolutionary, and Billy Connolly plays a tennis pro with a somewhat ambiguous sexual orientation. Campbell Scott completely steals the show, however, as the utterly bizarre Meistrich, a bespectacled German ship officer with well-oiled hair. Believe it or not, all of these characters and situations weave together in some form, and everyone gets a chance to do their thing.

The film is alternatingly witty and slapstick, but it's always funny and, at times, surprisingly sweet. A couple of the jokes fall flat, but there's always another one coming down the pike, and all the intentional over-acting is fun to watch. There's actually a bit of a plot, too, that has a logical payoff and resolution.

This is one of my top ten favorite films of all-time. It's the kind of film that must have been as fun to make as it was to watch, and I smile every time I think of it.