Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 294: Double Feature - Identity (2003) and Impostor (2001)

Identity.  R, 1 hr. 30 min.  Directed by: James Mangold.  Release Date: April 25, 2003.  DVD Release Date: September 6, 2005. 

If you thought this might be inspired by And Then There Were None, you aren't alone.  It has a similar premise:  folks find themselves in an isolated place, not trapped, but required to stay where they are because of a violent storm.  Agatha Christie wasn't above using the cliche of a stormy night in her work, but she was subtle in its use.  Identity is not.  When the action starts to heat up, and the travelers begin to die, one by one, you could be forgiven to expect certain things to come to pass.  As a big fan of And Then There Were None, the film and novel versions, I expected a few things.  I expected that the clerk was going to be involved, probably tangentially, and I expected that the killer was going to be the least obvious of the travelers.  I expected that we'd watch the cast at each other's throats from the moment the first one falls until the killer was identified.  That would be the Christie way, after all.

There are a lot of relatively big names involved in this project, but most of them seem to be fully involved in their own thoughts, which are namely how much money they made and how much longer before they get knifed in a dark, kind of skeezy motel room.  John Cusack, does an admirable job with his role, but he's one of the few that doesn't seem to have some written-in (or suggested) character flaw that would keep him from otherwise being a waste of skin in the trouble these folks have all found themselves in.  Amanda Peet is enjoyable, but I suspect that her tough-as-nails exterior was all that was required to keep her in the game. 

For about an hour, this movie meanders back and forth, with random personalities murdered in various ways.  As the numbers dwindle, the travelers get more frantic, and truthfully, I got less involved.  In And Then There Were None, the tie between the various characters is that each has killed another and gotten away with it.  In Identity, they all have the same birthday.  It was so stupid, I checked out.

When the twist arrives, I have to admit that I was surprised.  It wasn't totally what I expected, but it wasn't until I watched this today, that I backed up the DVD to determine if the solution to the mystery told by the story was probable.  It was, but only barely, and it still didn't save my interest in what happened.  

These guys get an A for effort, but the delivery of the material was strangely off.  The twist is technically well done, but there weren't nearly enough clues to make it fun to try and figure out.

Impostor.  PG-13, 1 hr. 35 min.  Directed by: Gary Fleder.  Release Date: December 4, 2001.   DVD Release Date: July 9, 2002. 

I realized a bit too late that I’d seen this already, a long time ago, although I couldn’t remember all the details.  I remembered the basic story line, especially since now, as way back when, I liked the whole concept of the long-standing war between humans and the people of Alpha Centauri.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think that should we ever find ourselves face-to-face with an intelligent non-human life form, war is inevitable.  Most of us believe we’re the only ones out there, as if we’re the end all, be all of what could be done.  If this is the best nature or the man upstairs could do, I’d sure hate to see the average, or god forbid, the worst.

So, this isn’t terrible for a B-grade science fiction “thriller”… well, it’s not very well written and is pretty highly dependent on its action sequences to charge the film with not only suspense, but actual interest.  Madeleine Stowe manages to keep most of her clothes on, most of the time, which is record-breaking for her as far as I know.  

But, this movie has a large multitude of conceptual errors, things that prohibit the story’s ebb and flow.  If electromagnetic shields are erected around the cities, and nowhere else, how do people eat, since our food isn’t grown in cities?  Couldn’t it make sense for the Centauri people to arrange a situation wherein the guy responsible for their potential extinction gets discredited before he can finish his work?  How does Spencer Olham, aka Gary Sinise, manage to survive all this sudden activity?  He was described as something like “a civvie waiting for a heart attack,” but he manages to fight his way through more than one whole posse of federal agents and street thugs?  They also mention at least once that Olham doesn’t have any military training.

This won’t go down as one of history’s great films.  It won’t go down as one of the worst, either.  The premise is really strong, which helps keep its obvious deficiencies from being so… obvious.  As one of the few movies ever where Madeline Stowe keeps her clothes on, it's fairly middle of the pack for her.  Gary Sinise is pretty decent in this role, although we’ve all seen him better.  I liked Tony Shalhoub in this, and I only wish he had a bigger part.

What we finally come down to is a movie that’s fairly middle of the pack in every way: entertainment value, creativity, believability, and technical merit.  There are a few cool, small-scale special effects that are very reminiscent of Minority Report, and now that I’ve said that I’m wondering if this movie was inspired by Minority Report, as so many of the details are similar, even though the big pictures aren’t.  If you’re very in to sci-fi and you have a couple hours to kill, there are worse ways to go.