I have read only one Phillip K. Dick book (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, obviously because it became Bladerunner) and a number of his short stories. I have only vague memories of what he was like as a writer. In the eyes of Hollywood – barring Richard Linklater’s imaginative adaptation of A Scanner Darkly – Dick’s work seems to be fodder for sci-fi chase movies. Imposter has to be the most generic film based on a Dick short story, which pilfers from previous Dick adaptations like Bladerunner and Total Recall, and is similar in structure to the later Minority Report, which was also a chase movie but comes off as substantially more interesting and engaging by comparison.
You see, it’s the near future and the Earth is at war with the unseen Centauri race of aliens and we live inside protective Domes from outer space attacks and it’s all very Battlestar Galatica. In fact the first ten minutes, which is nothing but exposition, feels like the recap montage they place in front of sci-fi television episodes and sets up a lot of ideas that are never paid off later in the movie. Gary Sinise plays an engineer who has built the ultimate weapon to defeat these aliens but wouldn’t you know it he is imprisoned by head of security (Vincent D’Onofrio) as he is suspected of being an imposter, a “genetic cyborg bred from synthetic DNA” whose heart operates as a bomb and is designed to assassinate the High Chancellor, and he wouldn’t even know if he was a replicant. Of course the only way to test this is to subject him to some arcane robotic device that will rip him apart (instead of the DNA test that Sinise sees as his shot at solid proof that he is human and which looks cost-effective and relatively safe in contrast to D’Onofrio’s efforts, but whatever).
This opens up the film to questions of identity like “Who am I?” or “If I was a robot assassin, would I even know?”Or as Gary Fleder, the director posed in the hilarious Making of Documentary that we watched afterwards on the DVD, “What is reality? What is accusation?” Apparently, Gary, what is reality as proposed by Imposter is a multitude of shots of Sinise running, running through dank subterranean tunnels, running through Art Deco buildings and running through elaborate sets. Reality is the Fugitive but with everyone wearing grey jumpsuits. Oh, And accusation is letting D’Onofrio channel John Malkovich with a mannered, hammy performance that is conveyed in stilted, fey delivery such as “When I’m not... happy... then nobody... is ... happy.” D'Onofrio becomes the only watchable part of the film since his acting is unintentionally comedic. The filmmakers also attempt to generate elements like tension and suspense through placing the shots at strange-o angles and providing sound effects every time the camera moves.
Imposter was apparently a short film that was to be part of a three-segment sci-fi movie Miramax was planning (another segment turned into the Mira Sorvino subway cockroach monster movie Mimic) and knowing that explains the amount of padding that the movie places in the second act with Sinise running around in the Zone (the space outside the Domed Cities) and buddying up with a rebellious resistance fighter (Mekhi Phifer). My friend Seymour had high hopes for Imposter, hearing that it was a terrible sci-fi movie, but in the end it was just boring and uninteresting. “It’s missing something,” Seymour suggested, “a lack of layers, a lack of depth.” It’s the very definition of a B-movie with a B-movie cast (Sinise produced the film, possibly hoping it was his chance at leaving behind solid supporting roles to leading man status). Imposter is basically an extended Outer Limits episode with a double-twist ending. The best thing about the film was the heights of deluded pretension in the Making of Documentary with Fleder claiming that the film was “the quintessential Dick story, the quintessential Kafka story.” Quintessentially shithouse, Gary.