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SIMONE (director/writer: Andrew Niccol; cinematographers: Derek Grover/Edward Lachman; editor: Paul Rubell; music: Carter Burwell; cast: Al Pacino (Viktor Taransky), Catherine Keener (Elaine Christian), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Max Sayer), Jay Mohr (Hal), Jason Schwartzman (Milton), Stanley Anderson (Frank Brand), Evan Rachel Wood (Lainey), Daniel Von Bargen (Chief Detective), Elias Koteas (Hank Aleno), Rachel Roberts (Simone), Tony Crane (Lenny), Winona Ryder (Nicola Anders), Claudia Jordan (Simone Look-alike); Runtime: 115; rated: PG-13; producer: Andrew Niccol; New Line Cinema; 2002)
“Simone was not destroyed by a virus, but by an idea that never took shape.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Andrew Niccol’s (“Gattaca“) fantasy/comedy, which he wrote, directed and produced, is about a synthetic (computer-generated) actress named Simone created by a disillusioned auteur director who hungers to express his art.

Simone was created from computer software, as the title name refers to that program which is called “Simulation One.”

The screenwriter of “The Truman Show”comes up with a cute idea, but this one-note film hasn’t anything big to say after its joke is let out of the bag. As in life, what is cute can’t stay forever. Niccol puts the old formulaic hook in his story of the supposedly down-and-out director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino). But before you feel sorry for him, you realize that he does own a luxurious beach house and a Bentley. He is trying everything possible to get back with his ex-wife Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener). She’s now married. Also, Viktor’ sweet, computer savvy, teenager daughter Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood) resents her step-father.

“Simone” opens with Viktor looking haggard and beaten, his star actress (Ryder) in Sunrise Sunset walked off the set because the film was too arty and she’s not pleased with the way he’s handling all the extra clauses stipulated in her contract. She goes into a tantrum over her dressing room trailer not being the tallest one on the lot and that her demands of three opened packs of cigarettes in her dressing room at all times are not being met. The studio boss is Elaine, and she does not hesitate to fire the father of her daughter because his last three films tanked. She’s gone to bat for him for the last time, as without a star actress he can’t possibly finish the film.

Hank (Koteas) is a madman with a terminal illness who has been working diligently at his computer for the last several years, even to the point where he lost one eye due to computer microwaves. He dies and in his will he leaves Viktor a videotape about creating Simone. He does so because Viktor is someone he deeply respects as a fellow artist. This results in Viktor editing Simone into his Sunset film and convincing the cast she doesn’t work with them because she’s temperamental and will only work alone with the director. But since she’s a compilation of the best Hollywood actresses such as Sophia, Bacall, Audrey, Marilyn and a host of others, she’s perfect in the pic. It becomes a box office hit and Viktor’s inundated with requests for press interviews and in particular by a Hollywood gossip magazine and their persistent snakelike editor (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who taps his phone and follows and videotapes him wherever he goes. Simone’s leading man Hal (Jay Mohr) and all the people in the studio want to see Simone. Viktor cleverly thinks up ways for them to see her but not in the flesh. The hardest task for Viktor was to make her also into a celebrated pop singer and have her perform such songs as Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” live before 100,000 screaming admirers in the LA Coliseum.

Viktor signs a big contract and completes his second flick with Simone, “Eternity Forever.” But he feels pressured to keep up the lie and decides to kill Simone off. But he learns that once you create a legend, even if it is a false one, you have to stick with it or else you disappoint the masses. You may even get charged with murder.

In some scenes a digitized Simone is used, in others a real model, Rachel Roberts (Canadian model). It’s a tough guess to choose when Simone is a computer image and when the actress, but the director gives clues and the techie freaks should be able to easily detect the real from the unreal. All that stir over who’s real or not, hardly mattered anyway. Simone was not destroyed by a virus, but by an idea that never took shape.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”