Netflix nostalgia: The Impostors

Taking depression out of the Great Depression

“Hey! The Impostors is on Netflix now!” The moment I noticed that this little-known 1998 comedy was finally available for streaming a huge smile spread across my face. I actually beamed. Had I really missed this silly and largely inconsequential flick so much? Apparently I had.

Within moments I jumped straight to my favourite scene — which happens to be the end credits of the movie. The entire cast decked out in smart 1930s tuxedoes and gowns collect on the deck of an ocean liner and do a silly dance. There’s only about four moves and the cast manages to screw them up half the time but they don’t care and neither do we. This is clearly something they practiced for the first time mere minutes ago and the choreography is of far less importance than the jubilant mood. While Stanley Tucci Oliver Platt et al continue to do their little spins and bunny hops the camera follows them as they galumph off the set past a bunch of cables and lighting equipment. The fourth wall has been broken — we can now clearly see that they’re on a movie set and not a real boat. Don’t care. Dancing!

Anonymous crew members come into frame studying their video monitors and doing their various jobs. The dancers continue to clomp on by waving their arms with abandon. Finally the camera cranes up out of their path pivoting to catch them as they joyously caper out through the studio doors and into the parking lot. At this point I usually watch the whole thing again.

The year 1998 was kind of a weird one for movies. Most of the summer blockbusters that were expected to be hits wound up being terrible ( Lost in Space Godzilla The Avengers Blues Brothers 2000 Patch Adams Species II that Psycho remake) while quirkier independent fare like The Big Lebowski wound up being the real treasures.

The Impostors is something else yet again. Set in the 1930s there’s a very nostalgic tone to the whole proceedings beginning with some purely physical comedy presented without dialogue like a silent film. The title card another staple of early film pops up from time to time either to announce a new character (“The Queen”) or to express surprise at a plot twist (“An Ocean Liner?!”). The main characters (played by Oliver Platt and writer/director Stanley Tucci) are out-of-work actors who accidentally find themselves stowaways on an ocean vessel and must rely on disguises and their somewhat hammy acting skills to avoid detection. It’s an innocent sweet-natured film and it would be suitable for children if it weren’t for all the casual swearing. (The off-handedly frequent f-bombs were an element I had completely forgotten about.)

Perhaps most surprising (for such a largely-forgotten film) is the lineup of big stars in the supporting cast. Tony Shalhoub is the first mate with a deadly agenda Isabella Rossellini is the monarch-in-hiding Billy Connolly is the outrageous gay tennis pro Steve Buscemi as the suicidal lounge singer and Alfred Molina is the self-important stage actor whose bad temper leads to the heroes’ predicament. My favourite semi-villain is Meistrich the ridiculously authoritarian steward played with quietly silly menace by Campbell Scott complete with a monocle scar and a German accent.

While far too frothy and trivial to be a great movie The Imposters is an undeniably pleasant one and it still puts a smile on my face every time.