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Movie Review: American Dreamz

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Have you ever been around someone who just can’t tell a joke? He continues to speak on the assumption that he’s hilarious, but his utter failure to garner one laugh only contributes to an embarrassingly awkward silence. That’s what this movie is — you keep thinking that something funny is going to happen, but it never does. And not just that something comical would happen — that anything would happen — character development, a decent story, just something! Everything, I mean everything, fails. The film is left having that aforementioned awkward silence where it was anticipating the absent audience laughter.

The film attempts an all-out parody of contemporary American pop culture, including the following: Bush(isms), the War on Terror, Dick Cheney as literally the President’s ear and mouthpiece, the War in Iraq, over-hyped Iraq war veterans, American Idol, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, and the stereotypical views of small-town America, flamboyant homosexuality, and the Arab terrorist.

However, all of these things are approached without an ounce of wit. Because every aspect of the film has already been harangued and parodied to death and because most of the characters are stereotypes, this leads to absolutely no character development. In fact, you don’t feel like you know one person on screen. Most of the list above are already either self-parodies or have become the objects of intense cynicism, so there’s nothing fresh or new here. Quaid ‘s President is nothing more than a daily Bushisms calendar. The veteran is only falsely so. And the whole parody of American Idol is the absolute worst; the television commercials for the actual show are infinitely better. How could this happen with such an A-list cast and a generally reliable writer/director/producer? I mean, Dennis Quaid! Hugh Grant! Willem Dafoe! How could this occur?

There is not one funny part – no, not one. The audience never released more than a light chuckle, and afterwards I actually heard a woman wailing, “Horrible! Horrible!” The production design looked cheap and the editing poor; the flow of the film was like Drain-O through a clogged toilet pipes. Perhaps this film was made too quickly, considering the director Paul Weitz’s Good Company was released just a year ago. It obviously wanted to parody almost every aspect of American pop culture, but the script is not just flawed, it’s painfully miserable to sit through.

This is usually the point at which I just begin to write bash after bash (okay, maybe I already have…), but with this film, I’m sad more than anything else. It really is difficult to watch such squandered potential, and you can’t help but wonder how someone along the way didn’t realize what an awful movie they were making. But then again, Weitz not only was writer and director, but also producer – a sort of failed super-auteur. Some can handle this, but for his next film, Weitz needs both inspiration and restraint.

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