3 out of 5 stars
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Writer-director Niccol is far too clever to make a run-of-the-mill movie. Maybe he's too clever for his own good--The Truman Show and Gattaca both benefited from his intelligent approach and fresh storytelling skills. But here he tries for just a bit too much comedy and not enough dark satire. Viktor (Pacino) is a filmmaker who never really made it. When a primadonna actress (Ryder) walks off his latest film, the studio head (Keener), who happens to be Viktor's ex, pulls the plug. But Viktor doesn't give up; a conveniently dying computer geek (Koteas) has just left him a programme to create a fully digitised actress (Roberts, whose credit reads, "Simone as herself"), so Viktor drops her into the film without telling anyone. And Simone becomes an overnight sensation. Soon Viktor's having trouble keeping her under control, especially with a couple of tenacious tabloid hacks (Vince and Schwartzman) on her trail.

The premise and Niccol's take on it are smart enough to keep our brains fully engaged from start to finish. This is smart, incisive stuff, cutting to the core of society's obsession with celebrity. There are also a lot of nifty binary-code jokes, as well as the irony that about half the cast seems to be uncredited on this film! Pacino creates yet another engaging character who slowly unravels as the film progresses (he's much better in the first half when Viktor it trying to understand the implications). The rest of the cast are entertaining and energetic as well, although the contrived romantic subplot, sporadic bits of slapstick and drawn-out final act never work. This more broadly comic material was obviously inserted to remind us that the premise is plainly preposterous; no Hollywood studio could ever be this crass! But how much more interesting and searing it could have been if Niccol had the nerve to take on the industry with a black satire about the invented nature of fame. These things are buried inside this film, dying to get out. Just think about Viktor's passing comment: "If the performance is genuine, it doesn't matter if the actor is real or not."

cert PG themes, innuendo, language 22.Oct.02

dir-scr Andrew Niccol
with Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Rachel Roberts, Evan Rachel Wood, Jay Mohr, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Winona Ryder, Elias Koteas, Daniel von Bargen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Forest Whitaker
release UK 25.Oct.02; US 16.Aug.02
02/US 1h57

At the Oscars. Viktor and Elaine (Pacino and Keener) wait to see if Simone has won...

pacino keener mohr

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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall