*1/2 (out of 5)
April 21, 2006
Hugh Grant as MARTIN TWEED
Dennis Quaid as PRESIDENT STATON
Mandy Moore as SALLY KENDOO
Willem Dafoe as CHIEF OF STAFF
Chris Klein as WILLIAM WILLIAMS
Jennifer Coolidge as MARTHA KENDOO
Sam Golzari as OMER
Directed by: Paul Weitz
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Paul Weitz made great social commentary with his film “American Pie.” In some ways, he rejuvenated the John Hughes style of teenage sex comedy. However, he has lost his touch with “American Dreamz.” On one hand, he’s made some of the most outlandish, extreme characters around. On the other hand, he’s trying to make a smart, snappy social point. The two don’t work well together. Imagine the characters from “Scary Movie 4” trying to fit in a P.T. Anderson picture. It just doesn’t work.
“American Dreamz” hits hard at President Bush, Simon Cowell and the whole “American Idol” phenomenon, as well as human nature in general. Decent ingredients for a smart film, but in Weitz’s hands, it falls apart.
There are two converging storylines in this film. One follows Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) as the bitter creator of the highest rated show on television, “American Dreamz.” A basic rip-off of “American Idol” (even going as far to spoof contestants like Clay Aiken, Fantasia and Bucky Covington), “American Dreamz” taps small-town manipulative slut Sally Kendoo. They also tap the idealistic Omer (Sam Golzari), who is a plant from an Iraqi terrorist group.
The other storyline follows President Staton (Dennis Quaid) after winning a decisive re-election. He’s become depressed and rejects his advisors. In order to push up some approval numbers, the President agrees to be a guest judge on “American Dreamz.” The terrorists in charge of Omer are planning on using his place on the show to assassinate Staton.
Overall, not a bad idea for a plot. It was in the execution that “American Dreamz” failed. He goes too far with the characters. President Staton (a clear jab at President Bush) is so colossally stupid that you wonder how he manages to put on underwear in the morning. His Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) is a clear take-off of Chaney and is the maniacal puppeteer. The extremes of these characters make Michael Moore’s portrayal of Bush in “Fahrenheit 9/11” seem like a P.R. slate from the White House.
The other characters are all despicable in the movie, but it’s clear that writer/director Paul Weitz has fallen in love with them. He softballs the events of the movie, and it’s clear that he loves Mandy Moore’s character too much to allow the world to come down on her as it should.
Things really fall apart at the end of the movie. After the climax happens, there’s only a short resolution, but the appeal of the movie so disintegrates with every second of resolution that I found myself hating it by the ending credits.
This is not to say that there’s nothing to laugh at in “American Dreamz.” There are some funny parts. However, these usually aren’t connected with the larger plot. Sadly, as Iqbal, the gay cousin of Omer, Tony Yalda steals almost every scene he’s in. It wasn’t a good sign for this movie when Omer was chosen to be on “American Dreamz,” and I felt depressed that it wasn’t Iqbal.
Finally, the movie violated a pet peeve of mine. I understand that there is a general need for suspension of disbelief, and I know that some things work differently in film (like when someone hangs up on you in a film, you get a dial tone, which doesn’t happen in real life). However, there was one part of the film that violates the way the world works.
In one scene, someone spies on another by looking through the keyhole of a modern studio. I imagine that Paul Weitz has spent more time being intimate with apple pies than looking through keyholes. If he had looked through keyholes, he’d know that you can’t look through a modern one like you could in an old 19th century house.
I know it’s a picky point I’m making, but it is indicative of this movie’s desire to just change reality in order to make things happen to fit a director’s unrealistic whim.