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Movie Review: American Dreamz (2006)

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I know that many of the critics are panning this film and yes, American Dreamz is far from being spectacular, but I feel it’s still enjoyable and funny in its goofiness. It’s also not just an American Idol spoof, but a commentary on American politics, as well. In fact, I was not prepared for all the political references and jokes, but welcomed them just the same.
American Dreamz
Granted the tagline let audiences know its intentions: “Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President.” Hmm..yeah, that’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Dennis Quaid plays recently re-elected President Staton of the United States. He’s having a bit of a breakdown due to the stress of not understanding what he is doing nor comprehending the world’s politics at large after reading up on the country’s newspapers. In comes William Dafoe playing the president’s Chief of Staff and well, controller. To get his man/puppet back on track Dafoe gives Quaid some happy pills, schedules him on a lot of public appearances including being a guest judge on American Dreamz, where he puts an ear piece in his ear to guide him on what to say.

Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden plays the First Lady and her resemblance to Laura Bush is eerie. Although the two are supposed to make us think of the Bushes, they are also different enough to make them not seem like complete parodies. Both come off endearing in their haplessness.

Now back to the Reality TV part of the film: Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweed –the creator, judge and host of the popular show, American Dreamz (yes, that’s with a Z). He’s a mix of Simon Cowell’s arrogance and criticisms, mixed in with Ryan Seacrest’s over-the-top fakeness. In the search to make this season’s show the best ever, he wants diversity and is looking to cast an Arab musician hopeful as well as a Jewish singing wannabe. Of course, he finds both.

However, the young Arab character Omer, a show tune enthusiast, is also a failed terrorist-in-training who was sent to live in the OC with his rich distant relatives just so that he was out of the way and could not embarrass his family. Once he becomes selected as a finalist, his terrorist friends want to use his services again despite Omer’s hesitation and new-found love for America — the same country that killed his mother in a bombing during war time. I know for a second this sounds almost serious, but it’s all handled very tongue-in-cheek and over the top. The terrorists even wear laughably bad beards and have Tivo.

Omer’s rich cousins meanwhile embody lavish American consumerism and take him to the mall to try to Westernize him. They are also indirectly responsible for later getting him on the show. The funniest character in the film by far is Omer’s teenage gay cousin, Iqbal (Tony Yalda), who’s jealous of Omer for being on American Dreamz since it has always been his dream, but eventually helps him with his choreography and clothing. He literally steals every scene that he is in with his over the top campy-ness. Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show, Joey, American Pie) also stars.

Mandy Moore plays the white trash/Britney Spears-like contestant who will do anything to be the next American Dreamz winner, even sleep with Martin Tweed and marry a war hero who she doesn’t love (Chris Klien). Other previous Idol contestants are mocked too, including Clay Aiken and the rocker Bo in quick singing renditions that are amusing. While the narrative is never boring, some scenes do feel like they ought to be funnier, or at least end more concisely.

As you can tell by my description, this film is all over the place, which in the end is its downfall. The writer and director Paul Weitz has his hands full with the mixture of elements with which he’s working and the film fails to be as polished as his work on American Pie, About a Boy and In Good Company. But if you’re an Idol fan, then you’re sure to like the mockery the film does of the show, contestants and the Simon Cowell/Ryan Seacrest character. And if you’re a non-Bush supporter, you should also enjoy the Bush administration attacks as well.

The Upside:
When the comedy portions appear in the film it’s smart and very funny, providing easy laughs.
The Downside:
This satire tries too hard to be too many things and falls short at the end.
On the Side:
In its opening week the film tanked and only took in $3.7 million to tie for eighth in the box office.

Final Grade: C+

Film Stats:
Starring: Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Writing Credits: Paul Weitz
Release Date: April 21, 2006
Country: USA
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references.
Run Time: 107 min.
Studio: Universal Studios

By Tara Settembre, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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