Simulated cinema
By Rachel Deahl

You can call me Al.

Taking another sleek stab at the simulacra of Hollywood, Andrew Niccol (best known for penning the script to The Truman Show) makes his directing debut with this mindful, but minor, satire about an ambitious director whose digital star rises further and faster than his own.

Equal parts Pygmalion and Frankenstein, Simone stars Al Pacino as a waning art-minded director, Victor Taransky, who's just been set adrift in the studio climate. A once-successful filmmaker, Victor is in dire need of a hit and has just been sent a devastating blow by the difficult star of his latest picture. When Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) pulls out of Victor's finished picture, the director is with no star and a studio suddenly unwilling to back him. When he's canned by the head of production, who just happens to be his strangely benevolent ex-wife (Catherine Keener), Victor is assured that his latest baby will never see the darkness of a multiplex.

So what's a director to do? Well, conveniently, Victor is approached by a dying scientist with the answer to the director's cinematic prayers. Initially disregarding the kook, Victor receives a strange package in the mail after said scientist has passed on, and that's when he discovers Simone. A beautiful, digital starlet complete with the downloadable range of every actor who's come and gone through the Hollywood mill, Victor re-cuts his film with the pixelated performer in the lead. And, when the picture opens, audiences are captivated with the CGI beauty who becomes an overnight sensation.

Having to do double duty as the gatekeeper and creator of Simone, the seemingly perfect actress goes from overshadowing the director to overtaking him.

Niccol, who demonstrated his ability to intelligently satirize the media with his snarky, but slight, script for The Truman Show, once again delivers an amusing, if vacuous, tale here. Refusing to explore the most interesting questions posed by his premise, namely the postmodern implications of adding another layer of artificiality to an already artificial art form, Niccol instead opts to examine the business of Hollywood instead of its cinema. And, while it's amusing to ruminate on the pleasures of working with an actor who never gives any lip and always thanks her director first, it's certainly not an enduring theme.

But, perhaps, the most irksome thing about Niccol's film is its inability to maintain a solid stance on anything. Setting out to undercut the bottom line nature of the business of Hollywood, which continually undercuts the "art" Pacino's director is struggling to make, Simone ultimately champions the quick buck. Niccol's biggest problem may be that he is too similar to his hero: he's too set on making studio pictures to see that he's lost sight of what it is he was trying to say in the first place.