2 1/2 stars
starring Al Pacino, Catherine Keener and Elias Koteas
by Stephen Notley
It's good to see Andrew Niccol hasn't lost his knack for tricky titles. Just as Gattaca is spelled with the four letters of DNA base-pairing (A,C,G,T), Simone, on closer inspection, is actually S1mOne, or "Simulation One", with a one instead of an "i" in "Sim". Cute, huh?
Simone, like Niccol's other films, is clever, and slick in its way. It's got the full Gattaca look, with the deep saturated blues and green, and the snappy Gattaca outfits, and the Gattaca concrete everywhere. And, like Gattaca and the Truman Show, it's built around a cool science-fictional idea, in which a hapless director gets ahold of a secret computer-generated actress and turns her into a star.
If only it was more, well... (i)interesting(i). It starts well, with Al Pacino as Viktor Taransky, an aging driector of pretentious art movies who's frustrated with having to work with self-indulgent diva actors. Luck strikes, and strikes hard, when a freaky scientist bequeaths Taransky his pet project digital girl. Taransky ditches the diva, plunks digi-girl Simone into his movie, and bang, she's a star.
And then... it takes a long time for anything else to really happen. It's cool for a while, seeing Taransky play out his George Lucas fantasies of total control, but he spends most of the rest of the movie trying to dodge inquiries about his new mega-star, setting up remote interviews, faking appearances with stand-ins, and so on. After the first couple of go-throughs of this ploy, though, the audience starts to wonder if anything else is going to happen, and it kinda doesn't.
The story is built around a secret, and the plot can't really move forward until somebody else finds out. Everything else is just foolin' around. Eventually, after Taransky's done just about every fake and deke-out imaginable, the plot starts chugging into motion again, as Taransky is accused of killing Simone, but by now the movie's almost over, and it wraps up in a tidy package that doesn't really push the idea anywhere interesting.
Part of this is Simone herself. She's an image, but not a character -- she has no life outside what Taransky gives her to say. Okay, fine, but after a while it becomes a bit tough to figure out what everybody sees in her. In the film, we see people respond to her performances, to their "realism", but it's all secondary; we're (i)told(i) she's this incredible actress, with people weeping at her acting and so forth, but all we the audience see is a blond supermodel-actress saying lines in Taransky's goofy noveau New-Wave movies. We ourselves never see the spark that everyone else is supposedly going ga-ga over.
As well, though the premise tantalizes with hints of the issues it's
going to discuss, there's not much bite to the film. Is it an statement
against the venality of actors? Of directors? Of the public? Niccol's films
have always been more about presenting a scenario than about presenting
an argument, but it'd be nice if you came away from the movie with some
idea where he stands on something. Alas, *Simone* is like Simone: pretty,
but with nothing going on inside.