Los Angeles Times


Given that he's prone to overacting when he has flesh and blood performers to contend with, co-starring Al Pacino with a computer-generated actress in "Simone" is asking for trouble. And trouble is definitely what resulted.

Inexplicably written, directed and produced by Andrew Niccol, who did an admirable job scripting "The Truman Show," "Simone" is such a tedious Hollywood farce, so unpleasantly glib and relentlessly shallow, that Pacino's excessive performance is not even the worst thing about it.

That would be the film's flimsy premise, maybe strong enough for a short but way too anemic to sustain a two-hour-plus feature. A thesis constructed to make a point, "Simone" has nowhere of interest to go after its introductory minutes, and even those are not as funny or clever as the film would like to think.

A toothless take on our culture's mania for celebrity as well as a tired satire on the demanding nature of performers, "Simone" shares "The Truman Show's" interest in the question of illusion versus reality, but that's where the comparison ends. It's painful to see bright people make a dim movie, but that's the case here.

Pacino plays Viktor Taransky, an Oscar-nominated director introduced removing offending cherry-flavored Mike and Ikes from the treat bowl of a very picky actress. That would be A-list brat Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder in a cameo), who appears on screen only to quit Taransky's movie. Already occupying the biggest trailer on the lot, she's offended because someone else has one that's taller, so she's walking.

Furious at being at the mercy of "a supermodel with a SAG card," Taransky doesn't pay much attention to wacky inventor Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) when he starts bragging about his accomplishments. Not that Aleno's unintentional double-entendres ("I licked her, I licked her skin, I licked every part of her") wouldn't be enough to turn off anyone.

As Taransky eventually finds out, what Aleno is talking about is solving a problem, not seducing a woman, and the "her" he's referring to is not a person but a computer-generated actress called Simone, short for "Simulation One."

Completely desperate, Taransky uses Simone in place of the temperamental Nicola Anders and finishes his comeback film, "Sunrise, Sunset." Although nothing we see on screen makes this plausible, Simone is a huge success, putting Taransky back in the good graces of studio head Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), also his ex-wife, and their noticeably sane (because no one else is) daughter, Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood).

As if on cue, the press goes crazy over Simone, whom Taransky, desperate to keep the truth a secret, presents as a private, media shy artiste. "She is about the work," he intones. "And only the work." Naturally, this makes the tabloid operatives, especially sleazy Max Sayer (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who claims, "I had something on Mother Theresa once," go even wilder as they attempt to catch a glimpse of the reclusive star.

Aside from the intrinsic limitations of this feeble scenario, which largely involve Taransky telling increasingly elaborate lies to keep his shell game afloat, "Simone" has several other problems it has nowhere near the resources to overcome.

First, and most critically, Simone (whose features includes elements of Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and other actresses) looks like exactly what she is: a computer simulation. The idea that she could fool even the innately gullible entertainment media, let alone become an international sensation, is preposterous on its face. And hers.

Also, judging by what we can see of "Sunrise, Sunset" and its successor, the magnum opus "Eternity Forever," Viktor Taransky is a perfectly dreadful director whose films would be lucky to go straight to video. This might be Niccol's inside joke to himself, but the film can't admit it because that would make "Simone" even more pointless than it already is.

Which leads to the final difficulty. Taransky, the man we're supposed to identify with as a filmmaker of artistic vision, turns out to be something of a jerk, a pompous fool given to making overblown statements about art and truth. Even a blind hog can find a truffle now and then, and when Hollywood decided Taransky was over the hill, they got that right.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sensuality. Times guidelines: fairly mild.

Al Pacino...Viktor Taransky
Catherine Keener...Elaine
Evan Rachel Wood...Lainey
Pruitt Taylor Vince...Max Sayer
Elias Koteas...Hank Aleno

Released by New Line Cinema. Director Andrew Niccol. Producer Andrew Niccol. Executive producers Bradley Cramp, Lynn Harris, Michael De Luca. Screenplay Andrew Niccol. Cinematographer Edward Lachman. Editor Paul Rubell. Costumes Elisabetta Beraldo. Music Carter Burwell. Production design Jan Roelfs. Art director Sarah Knowles. Set decorator Leslie Pope. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.

In general release.

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