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Funny moments don't come often in 'The Imposters'

By Joe Leydon

OCTOBER 5, 1998:  If you're sufficiently patient, you can find some moments of madcap amusement in The Impostors, another triple-decker treat from Stanley Tucci, the co-director, co-writer and co-star of Big Night. Despite the game efforts of a first-rate cast, however, too much of the movie is out of tune and off the mark. It's obvious that Tucci - working this time as a soloist in his writing and directing capacities - envisioned Impostors as an affectionate homage to screwball comedies of the 1930s. It's just as obvious that Tucci lacks the finesse of the Old Hollywood masters who made the films that inspired him.

There are faint echoes of Laurel and Hardy in the rendering of the lead characters: Maurice (Oliver Platt) and Arthur (Tucci), two chronically unemployed (and probably unemployable) actors in Depression-era Manhattan. After they run afoul of a hammy thespian (Alfred Molina) in a Broadway watering hole, the two friends hide inside a packing crate to avoid pursuing police. The crate is loaded aboard a luxury liner, one thing leads to several others. Maurice and Arthur wind up posing as stewards, among other things, while trying to remain inconspicuous.

The passenger list includes a Scottish golfer (Billy Connolly) who's much too fond of Greek wrestling; a couple of con artists (Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney) on the prowl for easy pickings; a deposed European monarch (Isabella Rossellini) with enemies in the wrong places; a "clothing rich and cash poor" widow (Dana Ivey) whose morose daughter (Hope Davis) falls for a suicidal lounge singer (Steve Buscemi). Campbell Scott, who co-directred Big Night with Tucci, plays a head steward with a German accent, an autocratic manner and a completely unrequited lust for the head stewardess (Lili Taylor). Tony Shalhoub, another Big Night alumnus, is a first mate who isn't as docile as he seems.

Like the first mate, just about everyone else on board pretends to be something he or she really isn't. But the complications that result from all this posing aren't fast or funny enough for Impostors to make the grade as a classic farce. At times, the desperation of participants on either side of the camera is glaringly evident. Expect a few chuckles, but little more, during a long voyage on this ship of fools.


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