DVD Review
Simone poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published February 11, 2003
US Release: August 23, 2002

Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Al Pacino , Rachel Roberts , Catherine Keener , Evan Rachel Wood

Running Time: 117 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $9,681,000
28 of 143
A thoroughly entertaining ride
In an era when run-of-the-mill movie concepts roam the earth, Simone presents its audience with a story that could?ve so easily gone the clich? way (in the long run).

Its writer/director understands the basic components of how to make a movie fun and visually inventive at the same time as making us think we know where we?re going, but then cleverly surprising us.
Judging from the trailers New Line had developed, it appeared as though Simone would have a unique directorial vision by Truman Show screenwriter, Andrew Niccol. In Truman, Niccol had managed (via the script) to create a world that was not reality but made it look as though it was. In Simone, this very unusual yet unique sense of visual storytelling is carried over. The direction by him, while very good, is not the only solid aspect at stake.

First of all, the marketing reps over at the studio really mislead in advertising. From the main trailer that was produced for the feature, the movie came off as somewhat of a clich? formula-run movie despite an interesting premise that hadn?t really been done before (it has a slight comparison with Bowfinger, though). When I was sitting in theaters watching the trailer on multiple occasions, it felt like I knew how the film was going to end. It just felt like another incident where Hollywood had told almost the entire story and already implied the climax. Boy was this a surprise.

Simone ended up being not only quite a fun ride, but an intelligent one as well. The reason this movie flopped can very likely be pointed toward the point that not only is it slow, but it?s got art-house written all over it. But not only that, but it?s got an insider feel to it that the mainstream probably wouldn?t appreciate all that much. It digs into the Hollywood movie business in an art-house-like fashion, and it?s whether you enjoy these foregrounds that makes it work or not. I happen to love these backgrounds, so watching Simone unfold was a treat.

The film surrounds a movie producer, Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), at the bottom of his luck when a dying-away friend hands him the gift of a lifetime. The buddy claims he has what his future has called for, and that is this computer-generated Hollywood actress. She?s on a computer and can be completely controlled by the user. Taransky accepts the gift and slowly but surely, she becomes an actress known as Simone (Simulation One). When Viktor first places the virtual actress in a movie of his, audiences fall in love with her and before he knows it, Simone?s a cultural icon. The actress functions in the way Taransky chooses, as all it takes is a microphone (Viktor?s voice is converted to hers), hand movements, and a few mouse clicks and whatever Viktor has chosen for the actress to do Simone can perform right then and there.

What really made this flick gel for me was not only Al Pacino?s mass enthusiasm and fun approach at Taransky, but the surprises that come out of the script. Andrew Niccol originally paves his path in a way where any moviegoer can guess where the story may go in the future. But here, Niccol is so determined to stay away from the cliches and everything (to a point) we know from all the "wrong impression" devices that screenwriters can fall into, that it makes Simone such a fresh experience. Going in, I thought I had the ending planned out but was very amazed and very appreciative that Niccol did not wimp out and construct just another formula piece. I won?t go into details, but the writer/director tricks the viewer and actually follows a wise road.

Also in the cast is Catherine Keener, who plays Elaine Christian (Taransky?s ex-wife). I?ve never really appreciated Keener as an actress and to this day my opinion hasn?t really changed, but here she is passable. In a sense, I think she gives the same performance in Being John Malkovich as she does in Death to Smoochy and here (as well as Lovely & Amazing to an extent), as Keener could be another example of what happens when a pretty face walks into an audition. She?s not that bad, but she?s never tended to give in a great deal of charms to allow the character to spark. It appears like she hands over the same emotion in almost every film.

After watching Al Pacino in an easily predictable and formulaic spy thriller entitled The Recruit, in which his performance (while lacking a great deal of substance within the script) was one of the only tolerable factors of its game, viewing Simone was a real treat. The actor is known for his incredible talent involving serious roles that require a straight-faced character that rarely lightens up in the way of humor. Here, Niccol hands over a part to Pacino that really unmasks the light-hearted end of the actor that Hollywood rarely ever witnesses. He still commands the part with a very confident and bold presence, but the persona calls for a very comical edge that Pacino delivers with absolute delight.

Acting as Simone in various scenes, he withdrew plenty of chuckles from my behalf, especially when he?s about to mentally breakdown in a humorous angle toward the later end of the film. While not on the same level, the experience of seeing a sort of fun end of Pacino was sort of like experiencing Robert DeNiro grab the humor in Analyze This. We haven?t seen much of it (at the time, in terms of DeNiro), so it?s new and different, and enjoyable.

The visual glare of Simone can be breathtaking at times, and the cinematography also fits right in with the picture?s rather unique yet unusual sense of filmmaking. The entire cast is not purely perfect, but for anybody who wants to see Pacino loosen up in a role for once, Simone does the job. But the movie itself is also enjoyable thanks to Niccol?s writing, which can be funny but just plain entertaining most of the time.

A la Bowfinger, it carried a premise that could?ve been told really frustratingly and aimed at an audience with no I.Q. whatsoever, but instead dodges the clich? bullet and carries the plot out with smarts. It?s by no means the best picture of the year, but Simone hands in a thoroughly entertaining ride that can keep you guessing at its continuously comical outcomes.
Lee's Grade: B+
Ranked #28 of 143 between 40 Days & 40 Nights (#27) and Y Tu Mama Tambien (#29) for 2002 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 2973 graded movies
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