To prove the theory that it takes a really good actor to effectively play a bad one, see chameleon Alfred Molina sink his teeth into Jeremy Burtom, a flamboyantly and deliciously hammy Shakespearean actor, in The Impostors. Writer-director Stanley Tucci wryly comments on acting -- from adopting a different identity to the desperate need for acknowledgment -- in this funny and light-hearted love letter to movie comedies of the 1920s and '30s.
For Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Oliver Platt), two starving actors in Depression-era New York City, the fact that this fatuous blowhard is one of the most famous thespians of the day is beyond depressing. The Brit, whose grandiose gestures match his bloated ego, represents everything they despise, yet they can't help but envy his success and public adoration.
It's a run-in with publicity-hound Burtom that leads this odd couple to stow away on the S.S. Intercontinental, a ship of fools who are trying to fool each other: A penniless society widow (Dana Ivey) wants to find her glum daughter (Hope Davis) a rich husband; on-the-make American con artists (Allison Janney and Richard Jenkins) pretend they're wealthy Euro-trash; and big band crooner Happy Franks (Steve Buscemi) is jittery and on the brink of suicide.
Worst is the outwardly gregarious first mate (Tony Shalhoub), who's really a revolutionary planning to blow up the ship. Can the good-hearted but inept Arthur and Maurice, with the help of the plucky head stewardess (Lili Taylor), save the day? What a question! The Impostors is an old-fashioned farce, rife with physical humor and packed with the kind of stock characters that populated movies like this in their heyday.
Tucci has written each role specifically for the actor playing it, and everyone involved throws themselves into their performances with gusto (Billy Connolly and Campbell Scott, in particular, display pitch-perfect comic timing).
But best of all is the Laurel and Hardy-like interplay between Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt. Whether involved in a staged café fight, practicing facial expressions, or masquerading as a married couple, their performances anchor this buoyant comedy, which is as airy and sweet as cotton candy.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.