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Steve Coogan and Shirley Henderson hit the 25th hour.

© 2002, New Line
All Rights Reserved

I never thought I would see the day when I would dislike a film that opened with a close-up on a bowl of Mike And Ike's.

Viktor (Al Pacino) is a film director at the end of his rope. With three flops to his credit, and his new film falling apart due to the obnoxious demands of its top star (Winona Ryder), Viktor comes across a computer program for a synthetic actress simulation. Using this "virtual actress" to replace his former star's scenes in his film, the actress, named Simone (Rachel Roberts), soon becomes the talk of the globe due to her performance. A media superstar, with the gleeful Viktor running the show from behind his keyboard, Simone becomes bigger than life, dabbling in magazines, records, charities, and fragrances. But once Simone's public appearances and media inquiry become too much of a burden on Viktor, he soon comprehends that he's inadvertently created his own monster.

"Simone" (IMDb listing) is written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the mind behind "Gattaca" and the screenwriter of "The Truman Show." Niccol loves to play with paranoia, and how the world's fascination with perfection has taken over our own lives. "Simone" is well-trampled ground for Niccol, and the age of the topics raised is starting to show. "Simone" has a decent premise, and Niccol gets plenty of mileage out of the irony of Simone's meteoric rise, but he forgets to back this tired cultural lesson up with laughs, or even characterizations that ring true.

"Simone" is a fantasy, and it isn't meant to be picked apart for credibility. But even the most fanciful movies should feature some sort of internal logic. "Simone" lacks any of that, eventually becoming a springboard for whatever bones Niccol has to pick with Hollywood and the media. Because of this, the film's story and logic is jerked around continually. Simone's rise takes only 9 short months, no journalist seems to question the gaping holes in Simone's backstory, and we never understand how the Simone program actually works. Again, these are nit picks, and something I don't generally like to report on. But since Niccol has made such an effort to satirize the Hollywood machine, and devoted so little time to actual storylines and significant laughs, the little gaps in logic start to stick out like a sore thumb as the film drones on.

That isn't to say that all of Niccol's ideas are out of whack. There is a particularly strong opening speech from Viktor about the overabundance of spoiled stars, and how they are killing the creative process. No argument here. Niccol also reminds us in his script that nothing will ever take away from the pure human moment of emotional connection. That no matter how much you can replicate the human experience with a computer, it's never quite as good as what a real person can do for the soul. These are the themes and ideas that work in "Simone," not the limp potshots at the golf cart-obsessed Hollywood back lots, or the "Amalgamated Film Studios" that Viktor works for. Those just reek of resentment.

Offering a chance to get out from under the dramatic weight of his past films, Al Pacino is enormous fun here as the feverish Viktor. Playing fast and loose, Pacino runs right over the rest of the cast, which features an indifferent Catherine Keener ("Lovely And Amazing") as Viktor's ex-wife, a gloriously miscast Pruitt Taylor Vince ("Heavy") as a magazine editor (!), and a laugh-free Jason Schwartzman ("Rushmore") as a photographer. In the title role, Rachel Roberts fits the bill indeed as the flawless Simone. It's a hearty performance of a fake actress, and I'm sure more time and skill went into the role than Niccol would ever let on.

Like the character itself, "Simone" is all smoke and mirrors. Rambling on for 120 minutes, the film needs more focus and less sermonizing for it to resonate. As it stands, I think I'll just hit delete.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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