- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Andrew Niccol's fitfully clever and insinuating but overextended "Simone" is either the second or third Hollywood satire of the movie season, depending on how you prefer to classify Robert Evans' inimitable documentary chronicle, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," which plays much funnier than most conventional comedies.
The fictional predecessor that "Simone" echoes in some respects is Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending," which met an unmerited brushoff from the public and too many churlish reviewers earlier in the summer.
The venerable but always exploitable device of the show-business hoax is also integral to Mr. Niccol's film, which lacks the engaging ensemble of "Hollywood Ending" but trifles with an updated situation, the feasibility of substituting a computer-generated model for a starlet.
Mr. Allen played a once-prominent director whose ex-wife, Tea Leoni, now a studio executive, facilitates his comeback attempt, jeopardized by an attack of psychosomatic blindness that requires preposterous concealment.
The protagonist of "Simone" is Al Pacino as a once-prominent director, Viktor Taransky. His ex-wife, Elaine Christian, played by Catherine Keener, has become a studio executive with the authority to greenlight a comeback project.
An emergency salvage scheme becomes necessary when the leading lady, Winona Ryder as a fickle but evidently bankable actress named Nicola, proves so vain and unprofessional that Taransky sacks her.
With his picture hanging in the balance, the despondent filmmaker is approached by someone with graver problems, a dying computer genius named Hank (an unbilled Elias Koteas), a one-eyed seer who claims to have perfected a computer graphics system that simulates human features with amazing accuracy. (If only.) He has invented the term "vactors" for the electronic performers that can be created by his software.
Taransky dismisses this doomed madman, who nevertheless wills him the vaunted technology. It proves a professional lifesaver. By taking advantage of this bolt from the blue, Taransky turns a professional death sentence into a cockeyed international triumph.
He goes into seclusion and emerges nine months later with a freak success, an esoteric sleeper with the redundant title "Eternity Forever," which showcases a Nordic discovery named Simone, short for Simulation One.
The most publicity-shy star since Greta Garbo, Simone performs only in seclusion for Taransky, who claims that her skittishness is such that he must direct her separately and composite her takes into scenes with other cast members.
"I want to start by apologizing for my process," she is cued to say at the first rehearsal, which she attends by remote control, with Taransky providing the dialogue. The inconvenience is arguably trifling when measured against Simone's lack of high-maintenance temperament and demands.
She's always as cooperative as Taransky desires. Mr. Niccol presumes to insist on several whoppers to keep the hoax supposedly simmering and erupting for more than a year.
The same inquisitive and playful mind that envisioned "Gattaca" and "The Truman Show" clearly is at work in "Simone," better as a brainteaser than a sustained Hollywood farce.
Mr. Niccol's vulnerable system of illusion is spared by frequent reminders of how willing people are to be credulous.
Credulity is often the preferred state of mind when people are confronted by fads and vogues or just the ordinary misinformation that surrounds celebrities.
Taransky does need an actress to double Simone on a date, and the presence of Claudia Jordan as this overjoyed eager beaver brightens up a sequence. A Team Taransky would have a lot to recommend it, especially when the hoax begins to unravel and the director is accused of foul play.
It's more disappointing to observe that Taransky never becomes an irresistibly obsessive identity for Al Pacino, who seemed far more in his element as the beleaguered but resourceful cop of "Insomnia."
Many scenes revolve around Taransky's reveries with his dream girl as he manipulates Simone's pixels and sound bites. An extra burden of distraction descends on the leading man, who remains too weary and melancholy a presence to lighten it consistently, but "Simone" is on to something and keeps tantalizing you even when it falls short of satiric inspiration and stamina.

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