There are certain actors that, when placed into a feature film, automatically make it better. They are often not big Hollywood stars – although they often appear in big Hollywood movies. They are perhaps not all household names – although generally speaking they are immediately recognisable from their many supporting performances. One such actor is Stanley Tucci, and the genius of his 1998 film farce The Impostors is that he gathers together a dozen or so of these actors and puts them all into the one comedy together. So if you are a fan of Tucci, Oliver Platt, Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Lili Taylor, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Emerson, Steve Buscemi, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Isabella Rosselini, or Billy Connolly, then this talented actor and director has prepared the film for you.
Tucci and Platt play out of work actors in early 1930s New York. After accidentally assaulting a much more successful actor (Molina), they hide from the pursuing police in a harbourside crate – only to wake up the next morning on a ship bound for Paris. While escaping custody as stowaways, they must handle a suicidal entertainer, two murderers, a deposed queen, a laviscious tennis player, a terrorist, and the very same actor they accidentally injured the night before.
There are plenty of great comedies out there, but few come equipped with quite so effervescent a sense of fun. With such a wide cast, The Impostors never relies too heavily upon a single talent. As as a result there is a genuine sense of play among the ensemble. There is a lightness of touch throughout – surely a requirement for good farce – and an infectious glee that bounces from joke to joke and scene to scene. Tucci and Platt are a sensational double-act of character and physical comedy; not just physically resembling Hollywood legends Laurel and Hardy but emulating them as well. There is a knowing wit and repartee throughout that most closely resembles Woody Allen in his prime, and this seems to be openly celebrated via a brief but well-played early cameo by Allen himself.
It is interesting to watch these excellent actors perform between each other, showcasing just how remarkably talented they actually are. Lili Taylor is a warm delight. Steve Buscemi – genuinely one of the greatest actors of his generation – gets to deliver an unforgettable combination of show tune and emotional breakdown.
The film practically luxuriates in its limited budget, with minimal care taken to make a realistic luxury ocean liner, but the beautiful thing is that the scrappy, cobbled together setting emphasises the joyful camaraderie of the actors. You could dismiss it as amiable fluff or a pointless diversion, but that’s precisely what The Impostors is. To disregard it is to miss its point: sometimes you just want to spend 90 minutes having a good time. This is a criminally underseen, lightly frothy delight.
The Impostors is now streaming in Australia via Disney+.