While making movies critical of the Hollywood system, many able filmmakers forget to transcend Hollywood product in quality. Recently, big names including Woody Allen (Hollywood Ending) and Henry Jaglom (Festival in Cannes) have delivered resoundingly inconsequential works of this ilk. Add to that list of disappointments Andrew Niccol's Simone, a film that loses all its bark in its inability to decide how hard to bite the hand that feeds it.
Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) once helmed artistic and financial triumphs in an unspecified Hollywood of yesteryear. Several flops later, he now panders to overpampered prima donnas and uncultured studio suits; even his sympathetic boss/ex-wife, Elaine (Catherine Keener), seems ready to pull the plug on his career. Enter Simone (short for Simulation One), a computer-generated leading lady. Viktor splices Simone into his last unfinished opus, revitalizing his career and making Simone the biggest pop-culture sensation since Digimon. One problem: Only Viktor knows that Simone exists on disc.
Simone offers a few moments of incisive satire. One particularly savage moment finds a disillusioned Viktor debasing his nonexistent star (and her fans) with a film featuring Simone rooting around in a pig trough--and audiences eat it up. Yet Niccol's criticism of modern Hollywood's plasticity rings hollow in a film that completely embodies it, and Simone flounders in its inability to settle on a genre, falling prey to both limp slapstick and an unforgivably cheesy ending. Niccol also fails to obtain notable performances from the actual humans on hand, giving Rushmore's charming Jason Schwartzman a character that serves absolutely no dramatic or comedic function.
Niccol (Gattaca) also implies that the use of computer-generated actors raises major moral issues but shies away from addressing them. Perhaps the moral issues posed by digital technology are fairly peripheral in relation to the creative issues they pose: Namely, will they serve to disguise lazy writing and directing as in Phantom Menace, or will they complement the director's vision as in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? Simone suggests the former over the latter. Its attempt to illustrate the new perils of emergent technologies illuminates instead the somewhat older perils of a shoddily written screenplay.