“Simone” is a 90-minute farce that refuses to accept its identity, tries to be serious, and stretches itself into two hours. Except for a few choice moments, the writer and director, Andrew Niccol, seems unaware that he was even making a comedy.
Niccol also gave us the too-serious “Gattaca” and wrote the screenplay for the funny-but-still-too-serious “Truman Show.” Somewhere deep within this man is a skilled comic writer, clawing through layers of ponderousness and high concepts, trying to reach the surface.
Simone is the name of a computer-generated actress created by a washed-up Hollywood director named Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino). She’s the ideal leading lady, because she never gains weight, always knows her lines and doesn’t throw diva fits. Thanks to modern technology, Viktor can shoot scenes with live actors and put Simone in later, without anyone knowing she doesn’t exist. (They assume she’s just reclusive and shy.) “Our ability to manufacture fraud now exceeds our ability to detect it,” Viktor says.
Soon Viktor and Simone are the toast of the town, and everyone is dying to meet her — or at least see her in person. This includes Viktor’s ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener), who is also his boss at the studio; and his teen-age daughter, the meek and computer-oriented Lainey (Evan Rachel Wood).
Because this is farce — really, Andrew Niccol, it is! — you may be assured Viktor comes to regret having created Simone but finds getting away from her nearly impossible. The film’s funniest sequence comes when Viktor tries to ruin Simone’s career, only to discover that no matter what she does, the public loves her (a plot device borrowed from “The Producers,” which is also a farce).
The inevitabilities — someone will find out, Viktor’s lies will get more elaborate, Simone will have to do a face-to-face interview — are postponed in favor of more Hollywood-insider jokes and uninspired character development. (Will Viktor and Elaine reconcile? Golly, I don’t know.) The whole thing feels dragged out, like watching a “Three Stooges” short in slow-motion.
Pacino, like Robert De Niro, probably has the right level of intensity and skill to tweak his tough-guy image and play a comedy. “Simone” could have been it. Alas, Pacino seems lost here, like the whole thing is somehow beneath him.
That being said, some of Viktor’s conversations with Simone — where Viktor provides both sides of the dialogue — could only have worked with an actor of Pacino’s caliber behind them. It helps having someone as sharp as Catherine Keener along, too, as well as amusing cameos from Winona Ryder, Jay Mohr and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
“Simone” is not a bad movie; it’s just a comedy that refuses to let its hair down. You will wish it hadn’t lasted so long, and that you had laughed more often. And maybe you’ll think Simone herself looked a little creepy.
C+ (1 hr., 57 min.; )