Movie director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) has had it with actors. The star of his new movie (Winona Ryder, relishing her cameo as a temperamental “model with a SAG card”) insists that he pick all the red Mike and Ike candies out of the bowl and ensure that her trailer is not only the biggest but also the tallest. She walks off the movie and Viktor is about to lose his deal with the studio, even though the executive in charge is his ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener).
But thanks to a bequest from a computer genius, Viktor finds the perfect substitute to star in his movie. She’s perfect because she will do anything he says. And she will do anything he says because she is not a human being – she is a computer simulation living in a hard drive. He can take a little bit of Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and a dozen other stars and then program her to do, say, wear, or digitally appear anywhere he wants to. It’s Pygmalion for the digital age. He collapses the name of the program (“Simulation One”) is to name her Simone.
Viktor digitally substitutes Simone for his departed star, and she causes a sensation. He is aided in his deception by Hollywood’s phoniness – many people are only too willing to claim that they have met her in order to make themselves seem more important. And Simone’s apparent unwillingness (in reality, “her” inability) to meet with members of the press only adds to the public fascination with her. As happened to Dr. Frankenstein (who was also named Viktor) or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Viktor Taransky’s creation takes over.
Viktor rationalizes his deception as just one small step beyond current practice (“Most actors have digital work done to them!”) and decries Hollywood’s “irrational allegiance to flesh and blood.” According to him, “the only real truth is the work.”
It is great fun to see Pacino do farce and the movie has some deliciously sharp satire. Told that a star is willing to do all her own stunts, including a fall from a plane, a studio executive says, “Shoot it the last day.” A radio news broadcast announces that no one is paying attention to world affairs because the Oscar nominations are out. It goes on a little long, but it is one of the better comedies of the summer.
Parents should know that the theme of the movie is lying, and while Viktor suffers for his lies, he pretty much gets away with them. Characters drink and smoke. And the movie has the “Parent Trap” problem of reuniting divorced parents, which may be a difficult subject for some families.
Families who see this movie should talk about how it compares to traditional stories about liars like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio.” And they should talk about how performances by “live” actors compare to those of digitally created characters in movies like “Toy Story” and “Shrek.” Do you think there will be a day when movie stars are created by computer? (By the way, Simone is indeed played by a real-life actress, model Rachel Roberts.)
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy other Hollywood satires like Steve Martin’s Bowfinger and Woody Allen’s Hollywood Ending. They may also want to try Tootsie. And everyone should see the all-time classic Singin’ in the Rain.