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Film / The Impostors

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Starring Stan and Ollie - no, not that Stan and Ollie.

Maurice: To life.
Arthur: And its many deaths.

The Impostors is a 1998 Genre Throwback to the Screwball Comedy era, specifically to films made by the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy. It's written and directed by Stanley Tucci, and features an All-Star Cast including Tucci, Oliver Platt, Alfred Molina, Campbell Scott, Lili Taylor, Steve Buscemi, Hope Davis, Billy Connolly, Tony Shalhoub, Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins, and Isabella Rossellini.

Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Platt) are two out-of-work actors in 1930's New York City. One night, they're in a bar, and they end up insulting Sir Jeremy Burtom (Molina), a stage actor. An angry Burtom pretends the two injured him in a fight and sics the cops on them. In desperation, Arthur and Maurice end up stowing away on an ocean liner, and while trying to avoid Burtom (who happens to be on board), and the police, they end up interacting with a host of oddball characters.

While it received mixed reviews at the time of its release and was ignored by audiences, the film has gained a small cult following and, along with Brain Donors, stands as a very funny Genre Throwback.

The Impostors provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Happy Franks: Don't kid a kidder kid! People are afraid of poverty, of war, of pestilence, of not knowing who they are or what they want, of dogs . . .
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Much of Voltri's rhetoric seems to be Anarcho-Socialist in tone with references to marxist themes, while his bomb plot is a classic example of Propaganda of the Deed.
  • The Cameo: Woody Allen plays a theater director whom Arthur and Maurice audition for.
  • Camp Gay: Mr. Sparks.
  • The Cast Show Off: Steve Buscemi sings "The Nearness of You," and he's quite good despite breaking down crying in the middle. After the climax, Hope Davis sings "Parlez-Moi d'Amor."
  • Con Man: Johnny and Maxine; each are planning to woo, steal money from, and kill, Mrs. Essendine and the Sheik, respectively.
  • Disguised in Drag: Maurice at one point.
  • Fetish: Much of the weirdness aboard the ship is derived from character's idiosyncratic kinks:
    Music: The Sheik
    The Male Form: Sparks, the tennis pro
    Violent Political Revolution: Voltri
  • Funny Background Event: When Arthur sets down his impossibly large martini, Happy Franks steals it.
  • Gargle Blaster: Arthur orders a martini in a massive display glass.
  • Groin Attack: Lily kicks Meistrich so hard that he is limping in a later scene.
  • Ironic Name: Happy Franks is so depressed he keeps trying to kill himself. (According to his divorce papers, his first name really is Happy)
  • Large Ham: Pretty much the entire cast.
  • Medium Awareness: When Voltri is speaking to his superiors by radio, his indeterminately Slavic-sounding language is subtitled. Maurice, who is hiding under the bed, spots the subtitles in the mirror and begins reading along.
    • During The Oner at the captain's ball, the camera tracks onto the deposed queen, who frantically waves it away.
  • The Oner: At the beginning of the Captain's Ball, the camera tracks around the ballroom, moving from character to character as the band plays.
    • Also done during the end credits, when the entire cast dances along the ship's deck.
  • Overly Long Gag: Several times. (E.g., Arthur and Maurice talking over each other while explaining themselves to Lily.)
  • Record Needle Scratch: Lily and Marco have their Big Damn Kiss while the music is playing - and then Meistrich appears behind them again. Cue needle scratch sound.
  • Right Behind Me: Burtom does this to Maurice when Maurice is insulting him in the bar.
    • Meistrich does this to Lily and Marco three times when Marco is trying to propose to her.
  • Running Gag: Arthur and Maurice trying to "die".
    • "Have I seen you in anything?"
    • "EXCELLENT!"
    • Whenever Voltri, who has a ticking bomb inside his jacket, walks up to someone, and the other person hears the ticking, they immediately check their watch.
    • Marco trying, and failing, to propose to Lily (until the end)
  • Silence Is Golden: The opening credits sequence features Arthur and Maurice pretending to "kill" each other at a restaurant, and is done without any dialogue. Some critics called this the funniest moment in the entire film.
  • Western Terrorists: Voltri, the first mate, has planted a bomb on board at the behest of his Anarcho-Communist, vaguely-eastern-european government.