AMERICAN DREAMZ (2006)
Starring Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Sam Golzari, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Tony Yalda, Marcia Gay Harden, Seth Meyers, Bernard White, Adam Busch, John Cho, Judy Greer, Noureen DeWulf, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Carmen Electra.
Screenplay by Paul Weitz.
Directed by Paul Weitz.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.
At this point in United States history, there are no targets riper for mocking than American Idol and George W. Bush. However it takes a certain amount of nerve to make a movie which tries to savage both at the same time. Add in suicide bombers, loveless marriages, show tunes and white trash wannabes and you have the recipe for either one of the funniest movies ever made or a complete and total disaster — after all if you don’t hit on targets this big everyone will hear the thud.
American Dreamz does not land with a thud by any means, but it does not connect as much as it should either. Writer/Director Paul Weitz has said in interviews about this movie that satire closes in a week, so he has made his film a straight comedy instead. While this is not exactly true — American Dreamz certainly is a satire, if a broad one — this attitude sabotages the film. They are trying to keep things light and funny when this film should be dark and funny. Good satire should be cutting, but while American Dreamz takes some serious stabs at modern American life, so much is done in a cartoonish manner that it dulls the blade.
For example, the long tagline in the poster is probably as damning as anything in the entire film. “Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons and where more people vote for a pop idol than their next President.” If the entire movie could keep that kind of concise, biting point of view it would have been much stronger. Instead, the movie wastes time taking pot shots at gay Arab choreographers, unemployed small town losers, Hassidic rappers (this would have played a lot better if the real Orthodox Jew reggae rapper Matisyahu didn’t become a surprise sensation while the movie was being made), gold-digging stage moms and soulless agents.
Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweedy, the Simon Cowell-type snarky, self-loathing host of American Dreamz, a talent contest that is the biggest draw on TV. It’s a funny and relatively ruthless role for Grant, Tweedy is so cynical about human nature and so miserable in his own company that the character is the only truly dark character in this black comedy.
He wants Mandy Moore as a cute white trash redneck girl (though she is from a middle-class Ohio family) who is not averse to using sex to get what she wants. Tweedy also decides to make the show interesting television by passing through a low-talent Iraqi singer — who was a part of Al Qaeda but so incompetent that he got farmed out to live with his highly Americanized family.
Suicide bombings and Al Qaeda are generally not fodder for comedy, probably for good reason. However it could make for some really dark humor. The reason this movie does not work as a satire is simply this — a good black comedy is supposed to be ruthless and writer Weitz just does not have it in him to go for the jugular.
Sure, Dennis Quaid’s President Bush — uh, I mean Stanton — is dumb, incompetent, overwhelmed, nepotistic and goofy. However, you can tell that Weitz likes the character and isn’t willing to get down in the mud with him — as written he seems addled but he basically wants to do the right thing.
Even the real bad guy, Dafoe’s evil puppetmaster Cheney-ish character, has a soft side, exclaiming excitedly “That’s my guy” when the President finally shows a spine to save people. Maybe this will spare Weitz from charges of being partisan (though I doubt it), but it doesn’t make for interesting storytelling. Because of this skittishness, American Dreamz is a pretty funny movie that could have been a classic. (5/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 30, 2006.