The Impostors

on October 02, 1998 by Lael Loewenstein
   The follow-up to his highly praised debut film "Big Night," Stanley Tucci's "The Impostors" was eagerly anticipated. Almost impossible to dislike, "Big Night" was witty, engaging and frequently hilarious. That's what makes "The Impostors" such a huge disappointment.
   To his credit, Tucci spreads his wings by attempting a different genre-this time screwball farce. In this 1930s-style comedy, two unemployed actors, Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Oliver Platt), are stowaways on a cruise ship. Trying to avoid the famous actor Jeremy Burtrom (Alfred Molina), whom they have offended, they encounter various passengers, including a disconsolate ingenue (Hope Davis), a morose crooner (Steve Buscemi), a mysterious veiled woman (Isabella Rossellini), and the ship's kindly social director (Lili Taylor). Concealing themselves in different cabins, they eavesdrop on conversations and unwittingly learn of nefarious plots: one couple plan to murder an elderly lady for her money, another man intends to bomb the ship.
   The problem with this madcap farce is that it's simply not all that funny. While there are very obvious vestiges of the Marx Brothers and even of silent comedy, more often than not the gags misfire. There is far too much taking place, scenes go on a little too long and the pacing is not brisk enough to evoke the same spirit of comedy classics like "Monkey Business" or "Duck Soup."
   It's worth noting, however, that "The Impostors" has one brilliantly funny sequence, its opening scene. Played out in silent exchanges between Tucci and Platt at an outdoor cafe as they engage in a mock dispute over the affections of a lady, this Chaplinesque bit is simply hilarious and serves as a reminder of what Tucci can do when he streamlines his themes and simplifies his style.    Starring Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Lili Taylor and Alfred Molina. Written and directed by Stanley Tucci. Produced by Stanley Tucci and Beth Alexander. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Rated R for some language. Running time: 102 min.
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