Saturday, May 13, 2006

American Dreamz

AMERICAN DREAMZ (Paul Weitz, 2006)

An amateur singing competition is the biggest show on television, and the newly reelected President of the United States abstains from reading newspapers. This reflection of real life is the set-up for AMERICAN DREAMZ, a satire from Paul Weitz, the director of ABOUT A BOY and IN GOOD COMPANY.

Dennis Quaid is the uncurious President Staton. Willem Dafoe is his Dick Cheney-like Chief of Staff, who becomes concerned when the President holes up in his bedroom with stacks of newspapers. The media begins questioning the President’s public absence, so to boost his image he’s booked as a guest judge on AMERICAN DREAMZ. Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), who is equal parts Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell, hosts and produces the AMERICAN IDOL-like show. He’s looking to take the program’s astronomical ratings even higher.

Martin already has a fame-hungry heartland sweetheart in Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore). He then casts an Arab contestant and an Israeli singer. What he doesn’t know is that the Arab has trained as a terrorist and is instructed to get to the finals so he can assassinate the President.

To Weitz’s credit, AMERICAN DREAMZ is an ambitious attempt to unmask the manufactured images presented to society, be it in the form of a prefab pop singer who’s anything but sweet and modest or the country’s leader who is operated like a puppet. There’s the seed of a good satire in AMERICAN DREAMZ, but the film flops spectacularly due to a poorly written screenplay.

There’s the problem of scale with the AMERICAN DREAMZ TV show. As over the top as it might seem, it’s a much smaller and watered down version of AMERICAN IDOL. It’s hard to mock something when the real thing is more outrageous than the film’s concept of it. IDOL is a highly produced and polished show, but its AMERICAN DREAMZ cousin feels like it’s made up on the spot. For as much as the film’s movement is supposed to come from the competition’s progress, most of the show is advanced through montage.

Weitz floats plenty of ideas in AMERICAN DREAMZ, too many ideas in fact. None are dealt with completely or satisfactorily. The limp political jabs fail to draw blood, although Dafoe’s uncanny Cheney impersonation is amusing at times. Unfortunately, AMERICAN DREAMZ is mostly a comedy dead zone.

Grade: D+

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