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Simone (August 23/02)

Andrew Niccol, the writer/director of Simone, is no stranger to out-of-the-ordinary storylines. His first film, Gattaca, was a portrait of a future that relied on genetic alterations to determine an individual's career path. He wrote The Truman Show, a movie that was apparently ahead of it's time, as it followed the life of a man who unknowingly lives in a fictional town. Now, with Simone, Niccol is exploring the idea of digitally created actors - a concept that's becoming frighteningly possible thanks to filmmakers like George Lucas and films like Final Fantasy.

Al Pacino stars as Viktor, a once-great director whose recent films have bombed at the box office. His latest is about to be shelved due to "creative differences" between Viktor and a spoiled starlet (Winona Ryder). Viktor is determined to finish the film without her, but the situation seems hopeless until he receives a visit from a seemingly crazy computer nerd (Elias Koteas). Turns out said nerd has come up with a program that makes it possible to create a photo-realistic actress. Viktor, desperate and in need of a miracle, uses the program to create Simone (short for Simulation One) and finishes his movie. Well, needless to say, Simone becomes an instant hit and Viktor soon begins to wonder if he'll be able to control his creation for much longer.

While Simone isn't quite the masterpiece that Gattaca was nor is it as gripping and involving as The Truman Show, it's nevertheless an above-average sophomoric effort from Niccol. He's clearly going for a lighter vibe here, with several sequences played entirely for laughs (such as the scene in which Viktor attempts to fool someone into thinking Simone is driving a car, when in fact it's just a dummy). And for the most part, it works. The run time is a little longer than it needs to be and the tone takes a decidedly darker turn towards the end, but otherwise the film is an engaging and enjoyable comedy.

That's due in no small part to Pacino's terrific performance. Because he's always afraid he'll be found out, Viktor is a bubbling mess of nerves and worry and Pacino effortlessly steps into his shoes. It's certainly one of Pacino's most accessible performances in years, and it definitively proves that he's got the timing to act in more comedies. Among the supporting cast, Catherine Keener is saddled with a surprisingly non-cynical role. Of the three other films she's been in thus far this year - Death to Smoochy, Lovely and Amazing, and Full Frontal - she's always been stuck playing sardonic and unapproachable characters. Here, as the head of a studio and Pacino's ex-wife, Keener easily assumes the persona of a tough yet likable woman (something her characters rarely are).

It's clear that Niccol is incredibly talented, and while Simone is pretty much instantly forgettable, it's entertaining enough to warrant a recommendation.

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