- Starring Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Jay Mohr
- Written, produced and directed by Andrew Niccol
- New Line Cinema
- Rated PG-13
When a temperamental star storms off the set of his last-chance comeback feature, Viktor Taransky (Pacino) faces the loss of his film, his job and even the respect of his pre-teen daughter. He can't even recast, because no one will work with a failure. His boss and ex-wife, Elaine (Keener), wants him off the lot for good.
Enter obsessed computer savant and film buff Hank Aleno (Koteas), who bequeaths Viktor the solution to his dilemma. It's a computer simulation so advanced that it's capable of the subtle grace, dazzling charm and vibrant presence of a real screen performance. Simulation One, or Simone, is a fully realized reflection of a Hollywood star. And unlike the A-list divas no longer returning his calls, Simone submits to Viktor's will alone.
Viktor inserts Simone into his unfinished film and releases it to rave reviews and a box office bonanza. Suddenly, Hollywood has a blazing new star, made all the more captivating by her reclusive nature-she's never seen in public (though a dalliance with Viktor is rumored). The paparazzi tabloids can't get so much as a peep at her, even after greasing every palm in Southern California and staking out Viktor's beach house 24/7.
At first, Viktor gets carte blanche, but it's not long before Elaine demands that Simone stump for her latest film, Eternity Forever. The resulting remote TV interview, in which Simone disclaims her own adulation while praising Viktor's genius, opens the floodgates for a breathless media typhoon.
But her stratospheric ascent means trouble for Viktor, who's seen as riding superstar Simone's coattails even as he feels her taking over his life. After a botched reconciliation with Elaine, Viktor vows to destroy his creation. The question is, how do you get a genie back in the bottle?
Grateful godfather to a pixelated pixie
S1m0ne, which coyly bills Simone "as herself" (the basis of the performance is provided by actor Rachel Roberts), exploits the brewing teapot tempest over "synthespians," the appropriately unnatural term for a digital actor. Flesh-and-blood performers fear a new age is dawning in which demanding superstars can be supplanted by CGI slaves that don't even want a piece of the net.
Simone, ironically, proves they have nothing to worry about. Al Pacino's nuanced performance is the kind of craft that could never be duplicated by a machine, no matter how many ones and zeros were strung together. Pacino looks, sounds, feels and smells like a washed-up director seduced by the impossible success of his creation. Already frayed at the start, Pacino pushes Viktor to the bleeding edge of sanity along a parallel track with the increasing insanity of the Simone phenomenon.
The film is positioned as a send-up of Hollywood self-involvement and the public's willingness to be deceived. But Simone feels more like a kind of Brave New Tootsie. Both are very funny movies in which a man reinvents himself to get the attention he couldn't get before, then comes to resent his alter ego for the very success he manufactured. Both are about the man, not the simulacrum.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of shots aimed at the starmaking system, including a very funny Oscar sequence and an over-the-top arena pop tour.
Digital Performance as a Target
Though it's Pacino's flick, the key supporting cast stands out. Catherine Keener again demonstrates her ability to wring comedy from strong, smart, vulnerable women. Winona Ryder has a great camp cameo as a pampered leading lady. The best supporting cast moments, though, are reserved for Pruitt Taylor Vince as a tabloid sleaze obsessed with Simone, and his acolyte, a funny and underused Jason Schwartzman.
Any number of movies this year include computer-generated characters more real, and much more interesting, than Simone (Gollum and Stuart Little come to mind). Simone reminds us we don't need more digital avatars -- we need more Al Pacinos.
The filmmaker, Andrew Niccol, has as his previous credits movies like Gattaca and The Truman Show. His casting has always intrigued me: I wouldn't have thought of Uma Thurman or Jim Carrey, respectively, for those roles, and gruff old Al Pacino seemed like a surprise choice for a futuristic Hollywood spoof. Niccol's reinvention of actors' personas neatly parallels his evident interest in appearances and manipulation.