Andrew Niccol's "Simone," a Hollywood-set fantasy/satire about the creation of a quick-to-be world famous actress who, unbeknownst to the public, is nothing more than a computerized simulation, fits snugly into the writer-director's previous works 1997's "Gattaca" and 1998's "The Truman Show." All three films have a certain amount in common, not the least being a futuristic storyline that deals with the powers of an evolving technology, but "Simone" is a more uneven, less assured concoction than Niccol's former efforts. There are sporadic laughs to be had and the premise is admittedly savvy, but the message Niccol ends up conveying is a hugely misguided one that, by the end, sinks the picture's merits.
Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) is a down-on-his luck studio filmmaker whose last two movies have tanked, and faces the complete abandonment of his nearly-finished current project when spoiled lead actress Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) quits over not having the tallest trailer on the lot. Viktor's apologetic ex-wife, Elaine (Catherine Keener), the head of the studio, faces ending his contract unless he can find a way to finish the film with someone else in the role. A light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of a dying computer engineer (Elias Koteas) who admires Viktor's work to such a degree, he has created a visually perfect synthetic actress for him to insert in the film. The project, labeled "Simulation One," is transformed into a superstar sensation overnight in the form of Simone (Rachel Roberts). Suddenly, Viktor's career is hot again, but how long will he be able to fool everyone, including Elaine and teenage daughter Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood), before someone finds out what Simone really is?
As far as satirical Hollywood stories go, Steven Soderbergh's recent "Full Frontal
" (coincidentally, also starring Catherine Keener) was sharper, funnier, and more cutthroat. A sure sign that "Simone" is not nearly as edgy or accurate as it longs to be are the glimpses the viewer gets of Viktor Taransky's finished films, starring Simone. They look like sloppy, cloying piece of muck that would be laughed out of any theater auditorium if they were actual movies, not the kind that would elicit breakout applause once the end credits have begun to roll.
The production studio for "Simone"New Line Cinemahas gone to great pains to hide the fact that Simone is, indeed, played by a human being. In her acting debut, model Rachel Roberts is stunning, getting every nuance and motion of a simulated image just right. When she is called to act in Taransky's movies, however, she is stiff and, despite her computer-generated tears, almost emotionless. Though no fault of Roberts, this decision to make Simone's filmed scenes stilted only aids in the level of disbelief audiences are asked to suspend.
As the desperate, "in-over-his-head" Viktor Taransky, Al Pacino is solid, but his character is not a challenging or interesting one. For a clearer view of just how powerful Pacino's screen presence can be, look no further than 2002's "Insomnia
." In her fourth auspicious role this year, Catherine Keener ("Lovely & Amazing
") plays Viktor's sympathetic ex-wife Elaine. As the stuck-up actress Nicola Anders, who has a change of heart after witnessing Simone's success, Winona Ryder (2002's "Mr. Deeds
") steals her scenes with the sort of wicked abandon you rarely see from her anymore. Meanwhile, Pruitt Taylor Vince (2000's "The Cell
") and Jason Schwartzman (2002's "Slackers
") have the unenviable task of portraying two tabloid journalists whose annoying subplot gets in the way of the main focus of the film.
Where "Simone" falters most tragically is in the message director Andrew Niccol botches at film's end. In a smarter screenplay, Viktor would have recognized the moralistic mistakes he has made in deceiving the general public about Simone, but he never does. A lack of vital character evolution uncovers "Simone" to be a topically ambitious motion picture that never spots a true purpose for being.
©2002 by Dustin Putman