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Everyone's a Target in the Wildly Uneven "American Dreamz"

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • 2006 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Everyone's a Target in the Wildly Uneven "American Dreamz"

Release Date:  April 21, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (language and some sexual content)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Paul Weitz
Actors:  Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Judy Greer, Sam Golzari

It’s not too difficult to find plenty of parody material in American pop culture, just ask the writers of “Saturday Night Live.” And with “American Dreamz,” Paul Weitz“In Good Company,” “About a Boy”) takes full advantage and pokes fun at so many current affairs that it’s hard to keep up with all the criss-crossing storylines.

The story, or should I say series of sketches that never fully materialize into a full-blown story, kicks off as we meet Martin Tweed, a guy so smarmy and self-involved that he makes Hugh Grant’s previous cads – Daniel Cleaver (“Bridget Jones’ Diary”) or George Wade (“Two Weeks Notice”) – seem downright cuddly. Tweed, the host of ratings zeitgeist “American Dreamz” has just been dumped by his gorgeous American girlfriend, and without a regret in sight, he assures her she’s made an excellent decision. After all, who has time for a nuisance like love when you’re as rich and powerful as Tweed is? But truth be told he’s as bored as anything, so he sends his minions (the under-utilized Judy Greer and an unnamed cameraman) on a quest for more interesting “Dreamzers” for the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, the newly elected President Bush – oops Staton (Dennis Quaid) – is on the verge of a nervous breakdown following his recent, rather close victory. After perusing the newspaper for the first time in years, he quickly discovers the world isn’t quite as black and white as the daily briefing from his very Dick Cheney-meets-Donald Rumsfeld VP Sutter (Willem Dafoe) would indicate. So instead of addressing the public, he hides as his approval ratings take a nosedive.

Now whether you’re a fan of President Bush or not, there’s no doubt that Quaid has his mannerisms, or at least a pretty convincing (and occasionally humorous) caricature of them down pat. Even better is Marcia Gay Harden as a dead-ringer for First Lady Laura Bush. But what’s probably not going to be as funny to the faith audience is when a potshot is taken at the President’s religious beliefs, namely his Bible-reading habits. Aside from that, however, Weitz isn’t nearly as wicked or biting in his obvious dislike for the President as say, Graydon Carter, in his monthly editor’s letter in Vanity Fair. By movie’s end, the President’s practically considered one of the good guys following his rather significant epiphany after serving as a guest judge (to boost those sagging approval ratings, of course) on “American Dreamz.”

What doesn’t work quite so well, however, in the humor or good taste department – even in a satirical offering like this – is the plot involving Omer (Sam Golzari), a young suicide bomber who hasn’t exactly shown much aptitude for shooting or killing tactics during his Al Qaida-esque training. Turns out his real love is for performing American show tunes, something his fellow trainees at the desert camp use to their advantage later when Omer, essentially the new William Hung ("American Idol," season three), is recruited for “American Dreamz” to balance out a singing Hasidic Jew. Without giving anything away for those planning to see the movie, winning the “Dreamz” title isn’t exactly Omer’s endgame, even though he’s not aware of it until much, much later in the competition.

Then there’s the overly ambitious, opportunistic Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), a Southern songbird who's essentially a more sinister Britney Spears with a better singing voice who’ll do anything to be a star. And I do mean anything, whether it’s being referred to as “white trash” or exploiting the love of her war-hero ex-boyfriend William Williams (Chris Klein) on “American Dreamz” each week. In her scenes with Grant, Moore shines, even in an unflattering role, because it’s clear from the outset that their characters understand each other better than anyone else has, and their love/hate relationship provides quite a few laughs.

But although there are plenty of funny moments scattered throughout, there’s clearly something missing in "American Dreamz." Namely, a backbone. While there’s the potential for considerable cultural commentary, the material in "American Dreamz" lingers a little too close to the middle and attempts to throw a bone to everyone watching. If Weitz really wanted to use the film as a springboard for his opinion about the state of the world, he should’ve taken a cue from better executed, less wishy-washy satire like "Wag the Dog" or "Election." But as a lightweight, escapist comedy for those looking for something to watch on a Friday night, this wildly uneven farce may just do the trick. Or you could save money and add it to your Netflix queue in the coming months.
  
AUDIENCE:  13 and up

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A few of the Arab characters enjoy cocktails by the pool.
  • Language/Profanity:  The usual expletives, including those of the religious variety, are peppered throughout (including the PG-13 allotment of F-words).
  • Sex/Nudity:  There’s some crude references to sex between Martin and Sally, and while little of the actual act is shown it’s implied that they have sex later.
  • Violence:  A suicide bomb mission leads to a fatality for one character.