S1M0NE

Synthetic celebrities are nothing new — look at Anna Nicole Smith. But an actor created completely by a computer? Now that's fresh, if you don't count last summer's Final Fantasy, a flop in which digital actors looked...well, digital. Simone doesn't seem fake, but she's software all the same, booted up by an Oscar-winning director, Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), whose career is going south.Viktor needs to act fast. His flesh-and-blood star Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder in a deliciously nasty cameo) has walked out on his film. He's been fired by a studio head, Elaine (Catherine Keener), who happens to be his ex-wife and the mother of their fourteen-year-old daughter, Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood). So Viktor creates beautiful, blond Simone at his computer console — hair, voice, eyes, the works. He tells the other actors in the film that Simone works alone. They buy it. So does the public: Simone is soon a star. She'll agree to TV interviews, but only on tape. She is not a diva — ask her to do a nude scene, you'll get no argument. Viktor is back on top; that is, until tabloid reporter Max Sayer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) starts snooping around. The joke's on Viktor. Max doesn't think Simone is a hoax; he thinks Viktor has murdered her. Simone has something most summer movies don't: an idea.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol, who spun a similar story about dehumanization in his script for The Truman Show, gets this Hollywood satire off to a rousing start. But the middle flattens, despite Pacino firing on all cylinders. And the end just nose-dives into something silly and, worse, sentimental. The computerized Simone is a marvel, though the techies had help from actress Rachel Roberts (no fair saying how much help). Niccol doesn't just make his point about the death of authenticity in today's Hollywood, he hammers it home until the movie collapses. But give this to the guy: He gets in a few good licks.

From The Archives Issue 904: September 5, 2002