[Screen It]


(1998) (Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Moderate None Moderate
Mild None None None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
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Moderate Mild Minor Minor Mild

Comedy: Two unemployed, Depression-era actors must contend with a bevy of idiosyncratic characters after finding themselves stuck on a cruise ship trying to elude a famous actor who's charged them with assault.
Arthur (STANLEY TUCCI) and Maurice (OLIVER PLATT) are two unemployed, Depression- era actors looking for work. Constantly practicing their routines and rehearsing their canned facial expressions, the two have resorted to acting out cons simply to feed themselves. Their bumbling ways and indecisiveness, however, often ruin their staged attempts, and instead of getting food, they get other nonedible items such as theater tickets.

Reluctantly attending a performance of Hamlet as acted by Jeremy Burton (ALFRED MOLINA), a pretentious English performer they can't stand, the two friends get into trouble when Burton later overhears Maurice debunking his performance. After a brief chase through a bar and across a port dock, Arthur and Maurice hide from the pursuing police in a shipping crate.

Awakening the next morning, the two find that their crate has been brought onboard a cruise ship destined for Paris. With the assistance of Lily (LILI TAYLOR), the head stewardess, Arthur and Maurice hope to get off the ship, but find their exit path blocked by Burton who's taking the same cruise.

Meistrich (CAMPBELL SCOTT), the German head steward, who has an unreturned love for Lily, order the ship's detective, Marco (MATT McGRATH), who is Lily's secret lover and nephew of the captain, to find the two stowaways. As Arthur and Maurice scramble from room to room throughout the ship trying to hide, they encounter a wide variety of idiosyncratic passengers and crew.

Among them is the Captain (ALLAN CORDUNER) and his First Mate (TONY SHALHOUB), a mysterious man who plans to blow up the ship to help a recently deposed Queen (ISABELLA ROSSELLINI); the Sheik (TEAGLE F. BOUGERE) who has a passion for his gramophone; and entertainer Happy Franks (STEVE BUSCEMI) who's recently become suicidal.

They also meet Maxi (ALLISON JANNEY) and Johnny (RICHARD JENKINS), two Americans posing as French passengers with their own evil plans of murder; Sparks (BILLY CONNOLLY), a robust and gay tennis player with a thing for the men onboard, and Mrs. Essendine (DANA IVEY) and her depressed daughter Emily (HOPE DAVIS), who've suddenly found their high society lifestyle cut short.

As Arthur and Maurice continuously try to avoid Burton and the crew who are searching for them, they learn of the First Mate's, and also Maxi and Johnny's plans and do what they can to thwart those efforts.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, or of old-fashioned, screwball type comedies, it's not very likely.
As of this review date the reason was not available, but it's obviously for profanity.
With the film obviously being a screwball comedy, none of the characters' behavior is meant to be taken seriously. Even so, the limited characteristics of such characters, as listed in the "plot" section, adequately describe them for such consideration.


OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
In 1996 and tackling the multitasking positions of writer, director and performer, actor Stanley Tucci -- along with co-director Campbell Scott -- delivered a sumptuous feast of a movie, "Big Night." Not only did the film manage to spur one's appetite for fine food, but with its subtle performances and creative filmmaking, it made one hungry for even more similarly constructed and sophisticated cinematic fare.

For his second course, Tucci has decided to go for lite and fluffy with "The Impostors." A throwback to the physical screwball comedies of yesteryear, the film has its moments, but has to be viewed as something of a disappointment after having feasted on that other film. If one were to compare "Big Night" to dining at any five star restaurant, then "The Impostors" is the equivalent of wolfing down a burger and fries at McDonald's. While both are tasty in their own right, there's simply no comparison between the two.

Of course, Tucci obviously didn't intend for the films to be of the same caliber, and this new genre he's tackled can often be downright fabulous if the material is handled correctly. One has to look no farther than the works of Chaplin, Keaton, or the Marx Brothers to see such films that have withstood the tests of time and are still as funny today as they were decades earlier.

While "The Impostors" occasionally hits on some of its cylinders and delivers some funny material, for the most part it feels like a pale imitation of the works of those other masters of the silent and not always quiet screwball comedies. Although some viewers at our screening found the proceedings quite funny, it appeared that easily more than three quarters sat in slightly amused -- myself included -- or possibly even bored silence.

Somewhat reminiscent of parts of the Marx Brothers' classic, "A Night at the Opera," this film has most of the necessary ingredients to succeed in the genre, yet fails to make full use of them. Although lead actors Tucci and Stanley Platt are talented performers and give their slapstick style characters a full go, they never manage to capture the brilliant comic genius of a Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello or other famous partners known for such work.

Similarly, while the film contains the requisite physical comedy and "near misses" involving the protagonists barely avoiding being "captured" by their pursuer(s), such moments never elicit the full belly laughs one would expect.

Such "near miss" humor dates back to the days of 17th century French playwright Molière who perfected such physical humor in fabulous works like "Tartuffe," and has continued to entertain audiences for centuries since then when done right. Although Tucci has such material, the set-up, timing, and execution of those elements is unfortunately off just enough to keep them from being as funny as they could and should have been.

That's not to say that, however, that there aren't some decent moments. The best comes during the initial opening scene where the two out of work actors go through a classic routine of simple misunderstandings that build into eventual, but comically inspired fisticuffs. Set to the traditional sounding score that often accompanied silent films in the 1920's and back, and interspersed with the film's credits that nicely separate the brief action, the dialogue free scene is done quite well.

While the plot that follows and drives the rest of the film is amusing -- albeit simple -- in concept, and generally deals with the characters trying to elude others while dealing with discovering two sinister plots, I found that it just never manages to elicit as many laughs as it should.

The performers, on the other hand, appear to be having the times of their lives as they overact and ham it up in obvious glee. Although there are too many total characters -- resulting in an overall diffused effect plus the waste/under use of talent such as Isabella Rossellini -- some of them stand out with their wacky and often funny performances.

Although they don't rank up there with the comedic partner teams of classic screwball comedies, Stanley Tucci ("Deconstructing Harry," TV's "Murder One" ) and Oliver Platt ("Simon Birch," "Bulworth") are enjoyable in their respective roles. Playing the standard comic characters whose hunger and poverty and later survival instincts spur their actions, the two offer some fun, amusing, and occasionally humorous moments.

Campbell Scott -- who appeared in and co-directed "Big Night" along with Tucci -- is a hoot as the German head steward, Meistrich, with an unrequited love for his female counterpart. While obviously playing the character for its stereotype -- similar to Mike Myers' "Saturday Night Live" creation, Dieter -- the effect is nonetheless quite funny. Likewise, the efforts of Billy Connolly ("Mrs. Brown") who plays the "manly" tennis pro, Alfred Molina ("Boogie Nights") as the English thespian blowhard, and Tony Shalhoub (TV's "Wings") as the scheming First Mate also provide some laughs.

Less successful -- and unfortunately so -- is Steve Buscemi ("Armageddon") as a suicidal lounge singer, as well as Allison Janney ("Big Night") and Richard Jenkins ("Flirting With Disaster") as conniving partners who themselves, like many on the ship, are also impostors of sorts. For the most part, they, and the rest of the performers, all suffer from the film's bloated number of cast members.

Simply put, beyond the main characters, none of the supporting ones are given enough time to fully develop comically, resulting in this film feeling like those similarly bloated "all star" pictures such as "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" where too many "cooks in the kitchen" spoiled the overall effect.

Hard to dislike simply due to its overall lighthearted, whimsical and decidedly goofy nature, one only wishes the film were continuously as good as its silent movie-like opening, or as fun as the infectious dance number -- where the entire cast sashays and two-steps their way across and eventually off the ship and onto the sound stage hosting the set -- that plays under the closing credits. Fun, but not great, we give "The Impostors" a 5.5 out of 10.

While the filmmakers probably figured kids wouldn't want to see this film, this is yet another example of a picture that easily could have had a PG-13 (and perhaps PG) rating if not for its inclusion of several "f" words (which give the profanity category a heavy rating). Some sexual activity (a man/woman encounter, and a man by himself) is heard and heavily implied, but very little is seen, and a male tennis pro seems to have a thing for other men (nothing happens other than some "friendly" pursuit).

A moderate amount of drinking occurs among some of the characters, and some evil plans are present (to kill someone and to blow up the ship), but the first never comes close to execution and the latter, like the first, is presented in such a whimsical and comedic fashion that it's hard to be bothered very much by such material.

That pretty much sums up all of the material as none of it's meant to be taken seriously. Even so, should some part of it be of concern to you, we suggest that you take a closer look at what we've listed to determine whether the film is appropriate for you or anyone else in your home.

  • We see a person bringing a bottle of gin to Burton, others comment on his "boozing" ways, and he may be somewhat inebriated during his performance in Hamlet.
  • People drink in a bar, including Maurice, Arthur and another actor friend of theirs who all drink beer.
  • The captain has wine with his dinner.
  • Franks drinks liquor straight from the bottle.
  • Johnny orders cognac for him and Maxi (but it never arrives).
  • People have drinks at the captain's ball, where Franks orders a triple bourbon, Maxi has a grasshopper, the captain and others have martinis, and Arthur has the same in a huge martini glass.
  • Arthur, Maurice, Lily and Marco celebrate with champagne.
  • An actor has a bloody mark on his head after Burton lightly strikes him during a performance.
  • Unemployed and hungry, Maurice and Arthur scheme to get a baker to give one of them food for defending the baker from the caustic, but faked barbs and criticisms of the other.
  • Johnny and Maxi have their evil plans to kill two people, while the First Mate plans to blow up the ship, but both are presented in such a lighthearted, whimsical fashion that they're never taken seriously (especially by the audience).
  • None.
  • Knives: Used during a comically staged fight scene between Maurice and Arthur.
  • Swords/Foils: Used during a stage presentation of Hamlet where Burton actually strikes his "opponent" and draws a tiny bit of blood.
  • Handgun: Carried by Marco as he nervously tries to find the stowaways. In one scene, he accidentally shoots it when surprised by someone, and in another he thinks that he's shot Arthur (but in reality a balloon has popped).
  • Handgun: Nearly used by Franks to commit suicide, but a knock at the door interrupts him.
  • Explosives: Carried and then planted by the First Mate to blow up the ship.
  • Phrases: "Piece of sh*t," "Idiot," "Bloody," "Bastard(s)," "Shut up," "Old broad" and "Two- timing harlot."
  • Maurice stuffs a huge pastry into his mouth all at once.
  • Although played for laughs, Franks nearly commits suicide with a handgun (he's interrupted) and tries to kill himself with a sword that turns out to be a harmless magician's prop.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 6 "f" words, 2 "s" words, 1 possible slang use of male genitals (what sounded like "c*cksucker"), 3 hells, 1 ass, 1 S.O.B. and 6 uses of "Oh my God," 5 of "Jesus," 4 of "God" and "Oh God" (2 in subtitles), and 1 use each of "G-damn," "My God," "Good God," "God Almighty" and "Good Christ" as exclamations.
  • As a woman falls backwards and a waiter catches her, his hands inadvertently touch her breasts. She then turns around and smacks him.
  • Arthur -- doing an "Oliver" type of orphan act -- practices saying that their mother sold herself to feed them.
  • Sparks, the robust tennis player, is gay (or bisexual) and continuously comes on to the men onboard, including Maurice. In one scene he talks about wrestling nude with a man on the steps of the Acropolis. Later, Maurice, dressed as a woman, slaps Sparks after he grabs his/her butt. Then, when Sparks is chasing Maurice, the latter stops and states "I'm a man." Sparks says "So am I," and then continues the chase.
  • The Sheik does some sort of odd, but slow pelvic thrusting when listening to a singer on his gramophone. He then gets Maurice and Arthur to join him and they do the same in a circle.
  • Maurice finds himself hiding under the bed of the First Mate who's conversing via a radio set to his comrades. Becoming aroused, the First Mate feels his crotch and then turns over and begins to hump the bed shouting, "Touch me! Touch!" etc...
  • Meanwhile, Arthur's who's hiding in Johnny and Maxi's closet, sees them kiss and then fall to the floor where he (and we) then hear sexual sounds (excited, heavy breathing, etc...).
  • Despondent that his wife is divorcing him, Franks comments that he loved her "...like a mother and a hooker. And look where it's got me."
  • Maxi smokes a few times, while Johnny and Arthur smoke once, and Maurice has a lit cigarette in an ashtray in front of him in a bar.
  • Others smoke in scenes set in bars, on the street, and on the ship.
  • A play director (Woody Allen) gets a telephone call that his wife is leaving him.
  • A brief comment is made about Mrs. Essendine's husband (and Emily's father) having recently died.
  • Franks is (comically) suicidal because he's been served his divorce papers.
  • Why Arthur and Maurice ran from the police when they didn't do anything criminal in the first place (beyond badmouthing Burton).
  • In a comically staged fight, Maurice kicks Arthur in the leg, the two then struggle with each other, and then push a woman back and forth between them before pulling knives on each other. They then act like they stab one another, but it's Maurice who falls to the ground as if mortally wounded (which, of course, he's not).
  • As a woman falls backwards and a waiter catches her, his hands inadvertently touch her breasts. She then turns around and smacks him.
  • Burton participates in a sword fight on stage where he proceeds to actually strike his counterpart, and even draws blood on the man's head.
  • Frustrated, Burton punches his assistant.
  • Marco holds a pistol on Maurice and Arthur and we then hear a loud shot and see Arthur slowly slide to the floor as if shot. Marco runs away and we then see that a balloon popped behind Arthur and he faked his death.
  • Maurice, dressed as a woman, slaps Sparks after he grabs his/her butt.
  • Lily knees Meistrich in the crotch and then punches him (after she's had enough of his romantic advances).

  • Reviewed September 24, 1998

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