S1m0ne (2002)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Al Pacino and Rachel Roberts in S1m0ne (2002)

Pacino's Synthespian Performance

"S1m0ne" is one of those rare movies where I am at odds with myself as to whether I liked it or not. It is without a doubt seriously corny as writer/ director Andrew Niccol delivers a story about a computer generated actor, a "synthespian", becoming a massive star without anyone realising that she isn't in fact real. And in fact it borders on being ridiculous in places as it goes too over the top in trying to create this story of real life and virtual becoming blurred. But then there is something quite clever about it all, about how a producer manages to single handedly create this actress who becomes such a big star that she ends up taking over his life in a very real way. And as such for everything I dislike about "S1m0ne" there is something I like which is why I am at odds with myself as to whether "S1m0ne" is a good movie or a bad one.

The career of producer Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino - Devil's Advocate) hits a low when demanding starlet Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder - Autumn in New York) walks off set and the studio decides to can his next movie. Desperate to complete the movie his salvation comes in the shape of a hard drive left to him by a computer geek who has created a "synthespian", a virtual actor built from a database of stars. Nine months after being canned Viktor completes his movie, using a "synthespian" he calls Simone instead of a real actress. But rather than telling people what he has done he keeps it a secret, a secret which will come to haunt him as Simone becomes a huge star and he has to go to inordinate lengths to keep up the pretence that Simone is a real person, causing him to end up blurring the line between the real world and the virtual world.

Al Pacino and Winona Ryder in S1m0ne (2002)

Prior to "S1m0ne" Andrew Niccol had been the man behind the thought provoking "Gattaca" and "The Truman Show" and it feels like he was trying to be just as thought provoking with "S1m0ne". The storyline delves into when real life blurs with virtual life with Producer Viktor Taransky unleashing the "synthespian" Simone on the world in his latest movie after losing his over demanding main actress and being canned by the studio. What follows on from here is how Simone becomes a huge star, fans idolise her taking her into their hearts without realising that in fact she doesn't really exist. And at the same time we watch how making Simone basically real to keep up the pretence ends up taking over Viktor's life to the point that he is no longer Viktor but Simone. All of which is a clever storyline and "S1m0ne" is full of clever scenes which highlight how the virtual world merges into the real world. And in hindsight with James Cameron giving us the virtual world of "Avatar" there is even more cleverness to much of the storyline.

But then for some reason Niccol tries to make "S1m0ne" a satire, a comedy which takes a swipe at the fake-ness of real life. We get scenes where actors and actresses try to sweet talk Viktor into casting them in his next film, saying they have met Simone, whilst of course Viktor knows this is a blatant lie. It's meant to be funny whilst highlighting the falseness of the movie industry and occasionally it works but far too often it doesn't and feels very strange in a movie which feels like it wants to be thought provoking. And there are other things which feel out of place from the reporter who becomes obsessed with Simone through to the singing career which Viktor gives Simone.

In fact at times "S1m0ne" ends up being almost insulting in the way it expects the audience to accept things. The whole computer stuff borders on the ridiculous especially the first time Viktor brings up Simone on his home computer, you know what I am going to say, a home computer back in 2002 just didn't have that sort of power. And it goes on with the rather small computer system he installs in his over sized studio to create the movies through to the pop concert that Simone gives. Plus there is the driving scene which whilst may have been funny in Niccol's mind doesn't come across in the movie. It almost is trying too hard to be funny and it ruins what could have been a really thought provoking movie.

Because "S1m0ne" ends up trying to be funny rather than just waspish it causes issues with the performances and characters. Al Pacio as Viktor Taransky seems unsure whether he is meant to be being funny or being serious and so we get his character floating in between in an almost bi-polar mess, serious one moment, funny the next and it's just wrong. The same can be said of the rest of the cast which includes Catherine Keener, Jay Mohr and Winona Ryder who all seem to be playing almost caricatures which end up feeling wrong when the storyline tries to be serious.

Then there is the character of Simone which when "S1m0ne" was released we were lead to believe was in fact a CGI creation although in reality it was Rachel Roberts playing the role for the majority of the movie. So when we are watching Rachel Roberts what we are getting is a divinely beautiful woman but to be honest little else. And when we are not getting Rachel Roberts we do get a Computer generated image of her on a computer screen which frankly doesn't look life like. This point, the rather less than realistic CGI imagery, ends up making "S1m0ne" a bit laughable and not for the right reasons.

What this all boils down to is that "S1m0ne" is in fact a frustrating movie because the whole idea of a "synthespian" and the way the virtual world blurs with reality has the potential to be another thought provoking movie from Andrew Niccol. But whilst it's trying to be waspish about the fakery of the real world and the movie industry it ends up losing focus and becomes more of a comedy that takes a swipe at the industry. And in being more funny causes "S1m0ne" to splutter and become stupid, almost insulting in the ridiculous storyline and what it expects the audience to take as fact.