Director: Paul Weitz
Starring: Mandy Moore, Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Willem Dafoe, Sam Golzari, Chris Klein, Judy Greer
Running Time: 107 min.
**1/2 (out of ****)
Imagine a movie where every character is in some shape or form a spoof of a real person. Okay, got that? Good. Now think about someone you know who just keeps talking, but really never says much of anything. Then combine the two and you have Paul Weitz's American Dreamz, a movie that's supposed to be a dark comedy, but by the end, just like that friend you know, it doesn't say anything particularly interesting or memorable. I cannot lie though when I tell you it's still pretty good and if you watch it you'll probably be smiling most of the way through. The actors are having alot of fun and it shows, taking a really awful concept and almost making it work. The whole thing is ridiculous for sure, but it's also strangely compelling.
Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) from small town Ohio has just won a spot on the number one reality show in the country: American Dreamz, hosted by Simon Cowell clone Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). That the movie attempts to spoof Cowell, who is essentially a spoof of himself anyway, is ludicrous, especially since he does a far better job doing it on American Idol than Grant does here. The show's so popular it even attracts the attention of the White House, which is inhabited by President Stanton (Dennis Quaid) who just won reelection, is southern, and also happens to be a bumbling idiot. Sound familiar? His Cheney-like Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) thinks it would be a great p.r. move for him to judge the finals of American Dreamz, even if he has to feed him everything to say since he has no brain. Complicating matters, the very likable Omar Obeidi (Sam Golzari), a middle eastern terrorist living with his family in California, is accidently discovered for the competition when it was actually his cousin who earned the spot. Omer is then recruited by his terrorist cel to make it to the finals and kill the President with a bomb. Hilarity ensues.
In a way, this movie kind of reminded me of Wag The Dog. That satire was about how the media can manipulate and skew our view of reality. Except this is about...well, nothing really. It seems to be about the media and their power over us, or our addiction with it. Is this trying to mock us for watching too much reality tv or taking it too seriously? We do. Big deal. Or is this a poltical satire? I'm not sure, and neither is the movie. It introduces so many satirical elements that by it's dark, twisted ending we're not at all sure what any of it is about. Nothing seems to come together like it should, or in a way that connected with me at least.
Terrorism and American Idol don't exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly for a motion picture comedy, so the movie really has no choice but to give us some kind of idea about what it's trying to convey. Yet, it doesn't. It's a shame too, because there is alot to admire about the sometimes clever film, mainly Mandy Moore. She's beautiful, a great actress and an even better singer. She takes what should be, and was likely written as, a caricature and turns it upside down, slyly spoofing her own good girl image. Looking at her you don't figure she could pull off a villainous role, but here, as in Saved!, she's definitely proven to be up to it. I loved the sub-plot of how she used her injured war hero boyfriend (Chris Klein) to help her win the competition at the urging of her scheming manager (well played by SNL's Seth Myers). I also have to admit the title song of the show is also pretty hilarious. Even though the target is way too easy, Quaid must have spent many late nights studying tapes of George W. Bush because he does pretty much nail it. There's a great scene toward the end where he loses the connection in his earpiece to the Chief of Staff and he can't even talk, much less even function. The look on Quaid's face is priceless.
Paul Weitz previously directed the American Pie movies, and more recently one of the best romantic comedies of the past few years, In Good Company. This movie isn't nearly as funny as the former and it doesn't have nearly as much to say about life as the latter, but it will keep you entertained for sure. The movie is so "of the moment" in it's satire and pop culture targets you have to wonder if it will look even more ridiculous (if that's possible) in like, say, twenty years. While I'm sure Weitz thought he had a lot to say about something, what that is isn't exactly clear.