Even though writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”) isn’t a one-trick pony, his second film, “Simone,” trots around like a lame horse begging for someone to shoot it. There’s nothing worse than watching a sick animal labor towards death, unless it’s watching a film like “Simone” do the same thing.

A lot has been written about “Simone,” especially when it was revealed that Al Pacino would share the screen with the first virtual, computer-generated leading lady. Actors of both sexes were in an uproar. The mere thought that they could be replaced by a dot matrix double sent shivers up and down their spines.

Imagine not having to cater to the outrageous whims of Prima-Donna actresses and egotistical actors. Imagine being able to get a performance out of an actor without all of the fuss and bother? Imagine a leading lady who will do anything and everything you request of her?

That’s exactly what dinosaur director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) needs. He has just fired the vainglorious leading lady (Winona Ryder, dead on) of his artsy-fartsy remake of “Sunrise, Sunset,” guaranteeing career suicide. It doesn’t matter that his ex-wife (Catherine Keener, delightful as always) is one of the studio executives. Having exhausted all her options, Elaine Christian (Keener) closes up shop and fires Viktor.

Desperate to make a comeback (even though his first three films bombed), Viktor utilizes a high- tech computer program he inherited to create a virtual leading lady named Simone (short for Simulation One). Able to pick and choose from the attributes of great actresses, singers and performers, Viktor conceives the perfect actress. After digitally inserting “Simone” into his latest film, Viktor ends up with a blockbuster hit.

The public and studio can’t get enough of “Simone,” forcing Viktor to create one lie on top of another in order to protect his secret. It sounds funny, but it’s not. Pacino looks appropriately harried, but there’s very little to laugh at in this retread of Niccol’s script for “The Truman Show.” Niccol once again finds himself taking shots at the media and its absurd grip on the audience, but he never hits the bull’s-eye. His observations in “The Truman Show” were sharp and witty. The jokes in “Simone” are fabricated and artificial as the film’s leading lady.

The film has an off-kilter split personality, one that Niccol never reconciles. It is obvious that “Simone” is supposed to be a comedy, and in a broad sense it is. It’s more of a farce, except that Niccol never allows the actors to play it as such. Then there’s the film’s serious side, a study of a man who believes his best moments have passed him by, regretting his choices and recent divorce. That combination would normally be excellent for a bittersweet comedy, but Niccol doesn’t see it that way. He creates situations and bits of dialogue that suggest slapstick or screwball comedy, yet lacks the conviction to pull it off.

Which would be okay if “Simone” were a thinking person’s comedy, but it’s not. It’s all matter of fact, with no real surprises or challenges. The plot goes exactly where you think it does, without making one unexpected turn or stop along the way.

I’ve met Al Pacino, and I know he is a very funny person. Too bad Niccol didn’t know that. The material in “Simone” is ripe for parody and satire, but Niccol never allows the cast to rise above the written word. Here is a cast who has lived the hopes and frustrations of the characters they are portraying, who are then forced by the director to leave that personal baggage at the gate. It’s a wasted opportunity.

So is the script, which rarely incorporates honest, human emotions into its fantasy world. You know a film starring Al Pacino is in trouble when you care more about what happens to his computer generated co-star. After conquering the worlds of film, music and live performance (you have to see this moment to believe, um, not believe it), “Simone” becomes real to millions of people.

When her popularity eclipses that of Viktor, it sends the mad computer scientist (shades of Frankenstein) into a jealous fit, pressuring him to do whatever it takes to pull the plug on his leading lady. At this point “Simone” should come alive. Instead, Niccol takes us down one dead end after another. He labors minor moments, and totally ignores other, more promising ones. A car collision on a crowded highway seemed like the perfect opportunity for Pacino to do his thing, but we never get to see the confrontation.

The rest of the cast just jump through the director’s hoop and hope for the best. Those landing on their feet include Pruitt Taylor Vince as a lovelorn tabloid editor and Evan Rachel Wood as Viktor’s understanding daughter.

The film looks artificial (and not in a good way) thanks to Edward Lachman’s sterile, bleached out photography. What should have been a bright, sunny comedy becomes a migraine inducing mess.

PIXILATED PIXIEComputer generated actress steals “Simone”


Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Jay Mohr, Evan Rachel Wood, Rachel Roberts, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Winona Ryder. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol.


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