Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:55 - Released 8/23/02

There was a time when I could say, "I never met an Al Pacino movie I didn't like." Oh, well—all things must pass. In Andrew Niccol's Simone, Pacino plays a washed-up movie director who, when he can no longer get high-profile actors to work with him, resorts to using a computerized woman to star in his films. Like Gattaca, which was also written and directed by Niccol, this film takes a moderately interesting idea and dumbs it down to the point that it becomes offensively simplistic, a good concept wasted on the Hollywood idea of what sells. Still, the presence of talent like Pacino and Catherine Keener (whose turn in Being John Malkovich got her an Oscar nomination) makes a big difference, taking what could be a total waste of time and making it at least watchable.

Although Viktor Taransky (Pacino) was once a successful, sought-after director, the failure of his last several films and his recent well-publicized statements about the difficulty of working with "prima donna actors" has made him a pariah in the industry. While his production company exec and ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener) wants to help him salvage his career, the departure of his latest leading lady (played temperamentally by Wynona Ryder) casts the future of his current film project in doubt. However, when a dying computer whiz (Elias Koteas) bequeathes him a computer program called Simulation One ("Sim One" for short—get it?), his troubles are over. "Simone" is a perfect, beautiful, computer-generated actress (played two-dimensionally by supermodel Rachel Roberts) whose performance and appearance can be digitally manipulated on a huge computer screen. Want the eyes of Natalie Wood and the singing voice of Madonna? Just type it in. Fuller lips, smaller eyebrows? Type it in. With the aid of a microphone and a scanning camera, Viktor can even speak her lines and make the necessary body movements, and Simone will mimic him perfectly, ever accommodating, never talking back, always respectfully addressing him as "Mr. Taransky." Hey, I think I want one of those.

When he edits her into his movie in place of Ryder's character, the film is a global success. But as soon as the public sees Simone's performance, everybody (including Elaine) wants an interview, not to mention a 5-picture deal, with the hot new starlet. Suddenly, Viktor's dream actress turns into a pixellated monster, forcing him to live a monumental lie for fear of being exposed as a fraud.

The premise behind Simone is interesting; the idea of a virtual actor being so lifelike she's taken for a real person is a circumstance which could become a reality in the not-too-distant future (see Final Fantasy if you want proof of that). But Niccol's story line and screenplay depend on every other character in the movie having the mental capacity of a toaster. It is grating to watch such an intelligent actress as Keener (not to mention Evan Rachel Wood, who is wasted in the role of Viktor's teenage daughter) being forced to feign doe-eyed ignorance to a deception any 4-year-old could figure out.

Ultimately, Simone is a missed opportunity: what could be a biting commentary on the dehumanization of entertainment devolves into an utterly tedious one-joke farce, with a tired-looking Pacino enduring ever more preposterous situations as his beleagured character attempts to cover his tracks. Furthermore, the comic premise (temperamental director tries to revive his career while hiding dreadful secret from everyone including his ex-wife/producer) is strikingly similar to Woody Allen's recent outing, Hollywood Ending. Nice try, Mr. Niccol—but Woody did it better. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail