Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
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 fin! ds 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 Cinema--has 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.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman