Of this, Viktor takes a little of Audrey Hepburn here, a little Grace Kelly there, and creates the virtual movie star Simone.


An Illusion movie review by Joan Ellis

                Virtual reality has come to the popular culture.  What’s more, it has arrived in the form of a simple-minded movie that is easy to grasp.  If the implications fly over our heads, at least the seeds are planted for something we’ll have to understand if we aren’t to be left behind, dead in the waters of what goes on around us.

                Writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol and the ever exhausted, rumpled Al Pacino have a field day with “Simone.” Mr. Niccol, who created the highly innovative “Gattaca” and “The Truman Show,” brings his bright, sure touch again to his fascination with the future of human beings and technology.  Mr. Pacino is Viktor Taransky an over-the-hill Hollywood director who has just been fired by his ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener), a major studio boss who can wait no longer for her ex to come up with a good movie.  

                Wrapped in dejection, Viktor is approached by a disheveled fellow who has spent five years at his computer developing a piece of revolutionary software.  In a gloriously empty sound stage, Viktor slips the device in his computer and realizes he has at his command a database of the voices and expressions of the world’s famous actors.  Of this, Viktor takes a little of Audrey Hepburn here, a little Grace Kelly there, and creates the virtual movie star Simone.  The movie is the story of runaway consequences.

                He simply announces that as a private person, Simone (Rachel Roberts) refuses to appear in public, period.  The public and press, sated with spin and unaccustomed to mystery, become enamored of her, giving writer Andrew Niccol open season on the current celebrity culture with all the vapid mush at its core.  He and Mr. Pacino make devilish mischief of tweaking the self-important people and practices that squirm through their industry as well as of the public that feeds on it.

 Watch Winona Ryder as a chastened primadonna in a fine scene toward the end, and credit Rachel Roberts with doing well by the cardboard heroine she is meant to be. Still, the movie is quite slow and repetitive, due largely to the fact that in making Simone the perfect pop icon, the software is still unable to give her a soul.  Whenever Simone is on screen, boredom threatens. 

Al Pacino, on the other hand, has soul enough for all of us.  In a warm performance, he lays bare Viktor’s broken heart, his vanity, and his love of family.  An emotional wreck, he sits at the computer creating the woman who will bring him the fame he covets.  In Simone, he has created the alter ego who can tell the world everything he wants to say himself.

If only they could have made Simone’s personality 3-dimensional, the movie would have been spectacular.  But don’t worry about that.  It won’t be long before the software geniuses come up with a credible illusion of soul, and then the fun, and the trouble, will really begin. 


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