Indy Film Talk: The Impersonators 

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★★★★ (out of five) 

One of the great thrills of moviegoing is seeing a filmmaker grow. That’s exactly what you’ll see when local director Joshua Hull’s sophomore effort, The Impersonators, premieres at the Hamilton 16 in Noblesville this weekend.

If you’ve seen his first film, Beverly Lane, you know that Hull has a knack for embedding the otherworldly in the everyday. While that film finds an ordinary office invaded by zombies, The Impersonators presents one run by superheroes — well, misfits that dress up as superheroes for kids’ birthday parties. The employees of Super Rentals are put to the test when a crime-ridden town recruits them to lift local spirits and clean up the streets.


Shot all over Indiana, The Impersonators is made with the confidence its characters lack, inhabiting the superhero genre as smoothly as it steps outside and satirizes it. All the cast members deliver energetic performances and exude strong comedic charisma, especially Josh Arnold as the lead. 

Arnold's character, Les, has the hardest time living up to his superhero role. Slovenly and sarcastic, he always appears disheveled when donning the cape of Mr. Super. His boss, Ricki (Jas Sams) loses faith that he can fit the role, hiring a dumber but brawnier guy (Scott Richards) to fill his shoes and forcing Les to show him the ropes. “You want me to polish the gun you’re about to kill me with?” Les asks Ricki in anger — one of the many clever lines in Hull and Arnold’s screenplay.

In the crime-run city of Rockville, Les finds himself in a dangerous situation that affords him the opportunity to win the affection of fellow superhero, Miss Wonder (Melissa Revels).

As Les steps up, so does the film. Just when you think it has gone too far and lost you with an offensive joke or gross-out gag, it pulls you back in with a sincere superhero moment. The most engrossing scene is an illustrated flashback explaining why Rockville’s crime boss (James Copeland) works without guns. It details the traumatic incident that turned him against them — a gun accident on the set of his father’s film that’s eerily similar to the one that killed Brandon Lee during the production of the 1994 comic-book film, The Crow.
 
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It's a dark, stirring sequence — the kind you'd find in a Frank Miller graphic novel. On top of that, the film features a stylish, frenetic fight scene. 

The Impersonators is, first and foremost, a comedy, but it does a great job of imitating serious superhero films with these scenes. I've been following Hull's filmmaking career for a long while now, and this is the first time I've seen him confidently enter a popular genre. He once told me that he sticks to comedy and skirts around directing darker, heftier genre films because trying to make one "would be like asking the prettiest girl in school to the prom." It looks like he is gaining the courage. 
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The Impersonators certainly has the promotional panache of a major studio superhero film. Complete with comic-book style posters and a line of action figures, this is a lovingly-crafted passion project. Just as the characters in the film play dress-up with dignity, Hull put serious effort into this zany story, and it shows.

The Impersonators is playing in Indy at midnight for two nights only — Friday, Nov. 14 and Saturday, Nov. 15. 


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