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S1MŘNE (PG-13)
New Line Cinema
Official Site
Director: Andrew Niccol
Producers: Andrew Niccol, Daniel Lupi
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Jay Mohr, Evan Rachel Wood, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tony Crane, Jason Schwartzman, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Winona Ryder, Rachel Roberts, Elias Koteas


Maybe the movie supposed to feel this… lifeless, and I just didn’t get it? Andrew Niccol was the force behind Gattaca and The Truman Show. He clearly has an abiding interest in issues of celebrity, what is real versus what is fake, and physical ideals of beauty, and he ably limned these in those films. So what sucked all the oxygen out of S1m0ne?

Viktor Taransky (Pacino) is a director prone to making films with stupefying titles like Sunrise, Sunset and Eternity Forever. His ex-wife, studio head Elaine (Keener) has kept him on at Amalgamated Films as a favor, so he can hold his head up in front of their daughter, Lainey (Wood). As S1m0ne opens, Viktor is on the backlot, picking the red candies out of a bowl of jujubes, as his lead actress’s contract specifies. When Nicola (Ryder, very funny), his spoiled brat of a star walks out on Sunrise, Elaine axes him.

Then, Viktor has a chance encounter with a software genius who’s dying in a week. Hank Aleno (Koteas) is Viktor’s number one fan (uh-oh), and he pleads with Viktor to adopt his new software. His program will render temperamental, spoiled “stars” obsolete, taking the focus off of celebrities, with their sense of entitlement, and putting it where it belongs, on the work. Viktor runs from Hank, who does seem to be a raving nut, but when Hank dies, Viktor inherits the software and is just desperate enough to use it.

He creates a synthespian named Simone (a contraction of the name of the software—Simulation One), whose performance is a synched representation of his gestures, his vocal inflections, etc., in the form of an ethereal blonde beauty. He puts her together by borrowing attributes of the allure of celebrated actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, and releases his revised Sunrise, Sunset to a public which goes Simone-mad.

Demands for interviews with the notoriously reclusive Simone escalate, and soon people such as her nakedly ambitious co-star (Mohr, always a hoot) are claiming Simone sightings. Viktor does get to do some pretty clever, silly stuff to satisfy the public and the studio by creating the impression that there is a real, corporeal Simone. In time, though, Simone’s celebrity overshadows her art—especially after she wins Oscars against competitors named Claris Apple, Corel, Lotus, and Mac—and Viktor decides to destroy his Galatea.

When Simone makes her “directing debut” in the ludicrous art film I Am Pig, Viktor watches in horror as the public eats it up with a spoon. Realizing he must kill her, he gives the program a virus, boxes up the whole she-bang and dumps it into the ocean, and announces Simone’s tragic passing. Naturally, he gets arrested for murder.

While S1m0ne does have a couple of laugh-out-loud scenes, it’s mostly recycling stuff that you or I or any film fan might have to say about movies, celebrity, and trends such as “reality” TV shows. I expect a filmmaker to bring me something that’s ahead of the curve when it comes to issues like this, and Niccol fails on that count. Not only is he not ahead of the curve, but the story skimps on the computer details, presenting a fantastically advanced computer program on the one hand, then hauling out old 5.25” floppies!

The normally excellent Catherine Keener is reduced here to being merely okay as the studio head who wears killer clothes. We don’t get the kind of zestful Pacino performance that would’ve put this one over better. Pacino only really comes alive when he’s creating Simone’s performances, which may be a directorial comment in itself. Possibly Niccol required his sometimes scenery-chewing star (think The Devil’s Advocate) to modulate his performance so that it wouldn’t clash greatly with Simone’s. And both Simone and her performances, for the most part, seemed pretty plastic to me.

The only folks with blood flowing through their veins were Max (Vince), the scoop-hungry editor of Echo Magazine, and his sidekick, played by Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore). Vince’s besotted bloodhound, hot on the trail of Simone, provides some welcome airiness to otherwise pretty leaden proceedings.

So what are we trying to say here? Bratty actors are a bad thing? I’ll buy that. Cults of personality/celebrity are harmful to our intellectual and emotional health? I’ll buy that, too. Live is better than Memorex? Sometimes. The Truth is not out there? Let me get back to you on that one.

There’s not a lot to say here because nothing is learned. Nothing new comes to the discussion, you just get to see celebrated (there’s that word again) actors engaged in that discussion. And as we already know, mere celebrity doesn’t legitimately confer more weight to one’s pronouncements. But for my money, this movie obscures Niccol’s views. That’s too bad, because he’s someone whose pronouncements would be worth our consideration.

—Roxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

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While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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