Phillip K. Dick was a visionary both in his ability to create and stare down the inevitable conflicts of dystopian futures and in his ability to dexterously meld genres. Fantasy, science fiction, noir, romance, psychological thriller and philosophy all crystallize into a fractal mirror that timelessly reflects our present society.
Previous adaptations of his stories -- for example, Blade Runner by director Ridley Scott and Total Recall by director Paul Verhoeven -- both brilliantly conjure Dick's hodge-podge recipe for fictional futures by blending big budgets and Hollywood stars with Dick's anxiety-laden world where technology has permanently erased the tenuous line between "real" and "fake."
Enter Gary Fleder, director of Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, Kiss the Girls and numerous made-for-HBO shows. Long fascinated with Dick's short story "Impostor," Fleder teamed up with actor Gary Sinise to produce the latest Dick adaptation of the same name.
Set in the year 2079, Impostor tells the story of Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise), a rocket scientist driven to develop a bomb to avenge his father's death and defeat the aliens from Alpha Centauri who want (what else?) to take over the Earth. Most of the planet has already been reduced to rubble save a few domed cities, and Olham's rocket is the Earth's last best hope.
But the sci-fi clichs begin to evaporate as Olham is abruptly apprehended by D.H. Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio), a kind of protypical Blade Runner whose job is to rout out impostors sent by the Alpha Centaurians. So real are these impostors who carry bombs in their hearts, they themselves don't even know they're fake. And so begins the classic Phillip K. Dick "Am I who I think I am?" paranoid plot as Olham tries to prove his identity to his pursuers and himself.
What's strangely lacking in Impostor is the kind of deliberate Hollywood vapidity that carried Total Recall. Sinise overacts the part and can't seem to pull off the yuk-yuk one-liners the way a true impostor-like action hero, say Arnold Schwarzenegger, can. Madeline Stowe seems similarly overcast as Olham's wife and doesn't deliver a single line worthy of her talents. The whole movie begs for a bit more glossy but pulpy schlock.
Equally disappointing are the film's half-baked sets. Though there are some gorgeous computer-rendered cityscapes, the claustrophobic soundstage look of most of the scenes is unimaginative and leaves the film looking flat.
It would be wrong to say that Impostor isn't worth seeing because the story alone will keep you squirming. But then again, why not save your eight bucks and buy the book?