Every once in a while
, there's a movie that comes along that you're a bit afraid to tell your friends about. Some of them will love the movie, and others will hate it and think you're an idiot
for liking it. Writer and director Stanley Tucci
's "The Impostors
" is like that. Some people will love it, and some will hate it, and there's no way to tell ahead of time who will fall into which camp.
The movie is a 1998 throwback to old slapstick comedies like those of Laurel and Hardy. It also has the same anachronistic sensibility as The Hudsucker Proxy. While it is ostensibly set during the Great Depression, nineties attitudes abound.
Tucci and Oliver Platt play two starving New York actors (Maurice and Arthur, respectively) who can't get themselves cast in a production to save their lives. Desperate for sustenance, they come up with a scam to trick a baker into providing them with free pastries by staging an argument in his store. Rather than pastries, however, the store owner gives them tickets to a performance of Hamlet. At the show, Maurice and Arthur upset the star, Jeremy Burtom, played by Alfred Molina, who swears to kill them. In the ruckus, Burtom is injured, and the unlucky pair are pursued by the police for attempted murder. The two flee the police, and end up as stowaways aboard a ship headed to Europe.
Upon boarding the ship, they meet up with Lili Taylor's Lili, the head stewardess, who agrees to help them avoid discovery. As they try to lay low, they discover that the rest of those aboard are rather unique, too. One of the crew members is a red revolutionary. Two of the other passengers are thieves and murderers. Another is a deposed queen, and yet another is a fabulously wealthy sheik. Rounding out the group are a lusty professional athlete, a gold-digging older woman, her depressed daughter, and Steve Buscemi as the ship's suicidal lounge singer. Just when Maurice and Arthur think things couldn't get any worse, they discover that Jeremy Burtom is also on the passenger list.
The cast of this film is simply amazing. In addition to Platt, Tucci, Buscemi, Molina and Taylor, it contains Tony Shalhoub, Woody Allen (uncredited), Allison Janney, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott and Billy Connolly, among others. The two most notable performances are those of Connolly and Buscemi.
Buscemi plays the ship's entertainment, a singer, who has just been left by his wife, and has decided to kill himself. Throughout the movie we are presented with his bungled attempts at suicide, which echo Maurice and Arthur's obsession with performing the perfect death scene. Just as they always screw up death scenes, he cannot succesfully off himself. He also has the movie's best line. At one point, Buscemi's character (ironically named Happy Franks), is asked why he is so sad. He replies that his wife left him for his agent. When someone disparages the agent, he leaps to his defense, saying, "He was a great agent! I loved him like a brother. I loved my wife like a mother and a hooker, and look where it's got me!"
Connolly, as Sparks, a tennis pro, is also excellent. Sparks has a thing for young Grecian men, and develops a liking for Maurice, who is half Greek. For the rest of the movie, he pursues Maurice, who does not appear to return his desires. His pursuit continues even when, later in the film, Maurice is disguised as a woman - although when he finds out about the ruse, he is even more excited. In addition to being rather humorous, Sparks also highlights the fact that Maurice and Arthur are (as a review at IMDB points out) somewhat ambiguous in their sexuality - they are never presented as a heterosexual threat, and sleep in the same room. Whether Maurice's discomfort at Sparks' advances is due to his sexuality or merely the fact that he is already spoken for is left open to interpretation.
Finally, of course, the heroes save the day in slapstick fashion. How do they do it? By relying, of course, on over-the-top acting. After the denouement, however, Tucci takes a big risk, ending the movie with a dance number that includes the whole cast dancing off the set and allowing the cameras to pan to show that the ship is, of course, a soundstage. By breaking the fourth wall, Tucci makes the audience question whether the film is merely a fiction, or a fiction within a fiction.
It's tough to explain the appeal of this film verbally. The funniest bits are really the physical comedy of both Platt and Tucci, which has to be seen to be appreciated.