Real danger of rolling in the aisles Review: For a genuinely fun time, see 'The Impostors.'

October 02, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

One of the singular pleasures of watching "The Impostors," the new comedy by protean actor Stanley Tucci ("Big Night"), is the sound of the audience's laughter during the opening sequence of the movie.

Tucci and Oliver Platt are engaged in a routine most often associated with the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton -- a comic pas de deux that involves much pantomimed confusion over tables and chairs, cigarettes and a girl, and that ends in a donnybrook of flying fists and a gothic death. As the scene builds, so does the laughter, until the theater is roaring. It's a sublime, bittersweet moment, as if we're returning to our collective cinematic roots.

Filmgoers could leave "The Impostors" right then and there and be satisfied, so perfectly does Tucci choreograph and calibrate the scene. But they are advised to stay to enjoy Tucci's delightful travelogue through the great eras of film comedy.

Tucci and Platt -- jot those names down alongside Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and Lemmon and Matthau -- play Arthur and Maurice, two Depression-era actors who engage in such exercises as the cigarette-girl-fight routine just to keep their chops up while looking for nonexistent work.

When by a series of unfortunate mishaps they find themselves stowed away on board a luxury cruise ship, Arthur (the wily fox) and Maurice (the sweet clod) take on the personae of two ship's employees, ultimately uncovering a series of dastardly plots against the boat's motley cast and crew.

Among the myriad delights of "The Impostors" -- other than the sheer pleasure of watching Tucci's face -- are its sketches gleaned from Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, to which Tucci pays sufficient homage without being too reverent.

Other high points include Campbell Scott playing a Teutonic steward, Billy Connolly's sexually ambiguous tennis pro, and Steve Buscemi as Happy Franks, the shipboard entertainer. Buscemi's teary rendition of "The Nearness of You" is the funniest thing captured on celluloid this year. In this scene as in so many others in "Impostors," Tucci gives us back the best of our cinematic heritage -- with a spit and a polish, and with its heart and soul intact.

'The Impostors'

Starring Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Alfred Molina, Lili Taylor, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Billy Connolly

Directed by Stanley Tucci

Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Rated R (some language)

Running time 102 minutes

Sun score: ****

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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