Published Jan 01, 2006The premise of Simone seems quite fresh, even though, if you really think about it, Singin' in the Rain had more or less the same setup. Al Pacino plays Viktor Taransky, a Hollywood director who's been beaten down by the system so much, he barely has a spine left (when we first see him, he's dutifully picking out all the cherry Mike n' Ikes from a candy bowl, a stipulation in the contract of his prickly leading lady, played by Winona Ryder). But Taransky's prayers are answered when a brilliant uber-geek, played by a twitchy Elias Koteas, posthumously sends him a zip disk that contains "Simone," the world's first life-like, computer-generated actress.
Simone appears to be a director's dream. Taransky can program every nuance into her performances (a little Jodie Foster here, a touch of Audrey Hepburn there), and she's got no problem with doing nude scenes, but simply by virtue of her popularity, she becomes too hot to handle, and too popular to conceal from her adoring public. Soon Taransky and his arty, incomprehensible films (they look and feel like Calvin Klein Obsession ads), have to take a back seat to his sultry digital star, and when he tries to end her career, the public simply won't have it.
Writer, director and producer Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) has written a very clever script that wrings every single cinematic possibility out of this timely idea. By the end, he's pretty much wrung it dry, but along the way there's some sharp satire and thoughtful analysis about the public consumption of celebrity and the nature of human and artificial identity. (I'd compare Niccol to Stanley Kubrick because he directs with the same immaculate, "control freak" precision, and because Simone would make a terrific double bill with A.I.). But if there's a problem with Niccol's film, it's that it's a little too arid and ironic for its own good. You don't so much laugh at the jokes as nod in appreciation.