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The Art of Seduction
by Katherine O'Neal
(Paperback from Amazon)
This is a fantasy film that trades on the impossible-made-credible through the power of digital illusion. If a 3-dimensional character can be created digitally, as it was in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" only better -- at such an advanced capability as to totally defy questions as to realism, what might this portend for filmmaking and the careers of filmmakers? One answer to that question is attempted in this good natured spoof by Andrew Niccol who attempts to entertain us with the notion while defying the constraints of reality.
Logic aside, then, when we first meet director Viktor Taransky (a Tarkovsky "type"?) (Al Pacino) he is being berated by the ego-driven demands of Hollywood starlet Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) whose contract would appear to be more easily broken than that of the real Winona Ryder, I'll bet. In any case, the career of artistic-expression-first director Taransky is in jeapordy as studio boss and ex-wife Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener) lays it on him that she's dropping him as a studio director.
So, when nut case Hank (Elias Koteas) approaches him while he's packing his belongings, Taransky is more receptive to the notion of not having to work with recalcitrant, uppity stars than he, himself, realizes. Taransky brushes off the kook but when Hank dies and leaves Taransky the digitizing program to create a life-like movie character, with the design for a ravishingly gorgeous simulation, Taransky takes the bait, naming "Simulation One", Simone (or, SimOne), the first of his inspired ideas.
Much as poor Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson have to act and swordfight with make-believe characters in "Star Wars", allowing for the visible versions of their fabricated co-actors to be digitally added to the scenery, so does Taransky's cast have to do same with the character of Simone (actually played by Rachel Roberts in her film debut when not digitized). The suggestion here is that Taransky does it all himself, without a crew of digital artists but simply with Hank's "invention", and the outcome is astounding. He, and newcomer Simone, are huge successes -- the toast of Hollywood and the recipient of a new studio offer. No way anything personal is going to stand in the way of studio boss/ex-wife locking up the hottest properties in town!
Adding to the allure is Simone's "fear of crowds" and her "general reluctance to pursue publicity", especially in the flesh, so to speak. This posture of not bending to mass idol worship (and self vanity) serves Taransky well in fending off discovery... for awhile, but soon a sea of reporters is following Taransky's every move and even the studio boss is demanding a meet.
The extremes he goes to in order to maintain the fabrication and sustain his newfound success is in the best traditions of comedic chicanery and provide a continuous stream of sardonic humor at the expense of Hollywood and its fans' tendency toward mob frenzy, worship of ideal beauty, with a few pops at ambition, mendacity and falsity.
Some might argue that Rachel Roberts comes short of that ideal, but not too many men that I know of. Her piercing blue eyes, facial bone structure and other attributes make her about as universally acceptable as that ideal as any actress around. The role may not establish her as great actress, but the part was hardly written for that gold standard, and Roberts fulfills all the requirements of the fantasy. She stands up under every angle of digital scrutiny. No sweat. No effort.
Pacino surprises us with a fine realization of the comedic potential in the spoof on self-important film "auteurs", playing it for its ironies and subtleties as well as its campy goofiness. He's in command of the role as he controls the flock's adoration of his "creation" and comes to the realization that his work is being aced by the sheer popularity of his computer generated star and that this is working against his "art". Success is not a simple matter.
Catherine Keener adds her own lovely brand of fun as she plays the wiles and willfulness of the uncompromising studio boss. This is an executive who clearly knows which side of the dollar her boxoffice receipts are buttered on.
These bits of casting serve director Niccol well as he stretches logic to the breaking point over and over. He had to depend for the success of his film on the qualities of his actors to provide enough fascination and skill to overcome the cynics who wouldn't be able to sit through it. For them it would be a venture into a void of unendurable implausability. For those of us who can appreciate self-deprecating industry humor in an envelope of make-believe, this one is above average for the genre. Entertaining moments of levity await along with the eye candy that is Rachel Roberts.
~~ Jules Brenner