Lousy character development plagues The Imposters

In this faintly comedic film, writer, director, coproducer and star Stanley Tucci (Deconstructing Harry) tries unsuccessfully to reclaim the vaudeville era in The Impostors (Fox Searchlight Pictures).

Tucci teams up with Oliver Platt (Simon Birch) to form the duo of Arthur and Maurice, two actors looking for work during the Depression. In a funny opening bit, Arthur and Maurice put on a silent performance in an outdoor caf?. But the film peaks too early, and audience members might be smart to get up and go home after the opening scene.

The film continues, of course. Arthur and Maurice try to swindle food from a baker. Instead of landing the puff-pastries they covet, they end up with two theater tickets to “Hamlet,” starring the overrated celebrity Jeremy Burton (Alfred Molina, Boogie Nights). Not thinking to sell the tickets, which would have been wiser, the two attend the performance and set in motion the foundation for the rest of the film.

After the show, Arthur and Maurice go to a bar and in their drunken stupor, poke fun at Burton’s acting ability. Of course, Burton walks in, hears the insults and incites a bar fight. The brawl soon becomes a police chase and ends with Arthur and Maurice hiding in a crate by the shipping docks. After spending the night inside the cramped box, they wake up to find themselves on a cruise ship heading for Paris.

Unfortunately, the movement from the bar fight to the cruise ship occurs too suddenly. If a few more mishaps occurred during the scene, the transition to the escapade on the ship would be more natural. The scenario is too neatly developed for a vaudevillian disaster.

Once on the ship, the audience meets more intriguing characters. Onboard, Arthur and Maurice become privy to the sinister plans of the zany people on the ship. The film continues but never comes to a satisfying fruition.

Although sprinkled with occasional moments of humor, The Impostors never captures an essential spark to draw the audience into the story. The acting of Tucci and Platt is not bad, but they do not possess the showmanship necessary to carry the film.

Portraying a suicidal big-band singer onboard the ship, Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski) gives a talented performance. Woody Allen, who now does small parts in films other than his own, makes a cameo appearance. Buscemi and Allen add moments of life but cannot compensate for the misfired jokes and predictable skits that dominate the film.

Miscast as Maurice, Platt landed the role more for his resemblance to Laurel and Hardy than his natural ability as a vaudeville comedian. For most of The Impostors, Platt’s demeanor better suits the conceited know-it-all he played in A Time To Kill.

The film also relies on the plot instead of character interactions to provoke laughs. With an exorbitant amount of twists in the film, the actors do not have time to settle into their roles. In the end, the dialogue appears forced.

The Impostors is mediocre at best. Despite brief comical moments, Tucci’s production comes up short in many areas and cannot be salvaged by the few well-written scenes.

The Impostors opens in theaters Friday.

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