Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 11/19/02 03:20:41

"Once again, Niccol fails to rise to the occasion"
3 stars (Average)

The premiere party for Simone was slightly surreal, as 4, or maybe more identically dressed S1m0ne clones wandered about looking cool and detached, only getting flustered when I finally broke down and asked one if they ever spoke (yes, when she's not working, I was told). So emerging from the relative darkness of the club to cross the street and settle into my movie seat was a welcome break from 2 hours of house beats and flatscreen images of the S1m0ne trailer on an unending loop.

Having somewhat enjoyed Gattaca and quietly sat through The Truman Show, I wasn't dreading this film so much as wondering if director Andrew Niccol could break out of his habit of turning an intriguing concept into a mediocre film. Unfortunately, we shall have to wait until his 4th picture for an affirmative answer.

S1m0ne explores a forgotten auteur Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) trying to revive his career and evade the pitfalls of the Hollywood star system by using a computer simulated actress willed to him by a dead 'mad scientist' (actual quote). His success is almost instant, with his star, Simulation One (Simone, played by Canadian Pirelli calendar girl Rachel Roberts), catching the attention of the entire world, in particular his studio head ex-wife, the always enjoyable Catherine Keener.

However, Karansky is soon overshadowed by the success of his star, and as her monster looms to Godzilla-like proportions, he is forced to take desperate measures to try and regain control not only his career, but himself.

And here we have the main issue. Niccol's films have always been about identity - particularly, the obsfucation of identity, either by the protagonist himself or by forces directed at the protagonist. In S1m0ne, we find these ideas in combination - Pacino's character finds his own identity lost in a sea of S1m0ne worship while at the same time perpetuating her lie on a global stage.

But Pacino never really explores how schizophrenic his character has become - the pull of S1m0ne vs. his vision as a director gets a few asides, (such as his daughter telling him she "misses the old Viktor Taransky"), but other than that, Pacino mostly sets his cruise control to 'haggard' and floats through the film. Keener is wasted in what is essentially the most vanilla role of her career. A pleasant surprise is Rachel Roberts, making that sticky modeling-to-acting transition with surprising charisma and grace. Granted, she was playing a computer simulated actor, but one could argue that Keanu Reeves has been playing that role for years.

On the whole, it's hard to be harsh with Niccol. Only 3 films into what could be a promising career, sooner or later he is going have a follow-through to match that back swing. This film, however, just misses par.

An interesting exercise that just leads us on an expository look at what could have been a much more scathing critique of the Hollywood star system - not to mention a much meatier role for Pacino.

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