These idle “Dreamz” can’t touch the real thing
“American Dreamz” would seem to have a lot going for it. Now is the right time to satirize both the hottest show on TV, (“American Idol”) AND skewer the most unpopular American president in decades. Plus, writer-director Paul Weitz is responsible for two extraordinary films– “About a Boy,” and “In Good Company”– and a hugely successful, albeit unabashedly disgusting comedy called “American Pie.” The casting is spot-on as well. It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to play the Simon Cowell role of producer/host than Hugh Grant, whose staff picks contestants like the pitch perfect Mandy Moore as a trailer trashy, do- whatever’s-necessary-to-win aspiring performer. Along for the ride are stellar actors Dennis Quaid, Marcia Gay Harden, and Willem Dafoe as, respectively, the bumbling Prez, his loopy supportive wife, and Cheney-esque puppeteer of an advisor.
So why does “American Dreamz” feel like such a letdown? Though the film has its moments and gets credit for its ambition and superb topicality, it’s all the more disappointing that a film that looks so good on paper ends up being so mediocre on the screen.
The film is too nice when it should be incisively naughty, and too mean-spirited when it should have gone for camp. And if you are going to use satire, it had better have some truly funny moments or the whole thing will come off as a parody of a parody. Confused? Exactly.
Grant plays Martin Tweed, who runs the most popular show on TV. He wants “freaks” in his singing contest, and among others he gets Sally Kandoo (Moore), a cute blond willing to exploit the infatuation of her discarded boyfriend (Chris Klein) who has returned a wounded soldier after one day in Iraq. Another primary contestant is Omer (Sam Golzari), a Broadway show tune loving Arab who is coached by his American citizen cousin Igbal (Tony Yalda), while being thrust into a terrorist plot. These two have some of the film’s best moments but nothing feels remotely as fresh as “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Once the final competition begins, the film should take flight. But there’s so little palpable drama that “American Dreamz,” even with its surprising conclusion, never gets up a full head of steam. Again, good on paper, not so good on celluloid.
If the real “American Idol” had this little drama, Kelly Clarkson would not be a household name. And by going for easy laughs by playing the president as a bumbling, almost mentally challenged incompetent, “American Dreamz” clearly illustrates it went for the cheap shot because it didn’t have the smarts to come up with anything original.
Sweet dreamz are not made of this.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references.