You’d think a satire that pokes fun at American Idol and the Bush administration would make for a good movie. In the hands of writer/director Paul Weitz (American Pie), you’d be wrong. The film offers few laughs and thinks terrorism and the war in Iraq are better targets than George W. Bush and American Idol’s smug host, Simon Cowell.
Ostensibly the film is about an American Idol-like show called American Dreamz, hosted by smarmy Brit Martin Tweed (a sleepwalking Hugh Grant). The show is about to start its new season, and Tweed is looking for a star. He discovers his star in Ohio, a contestant named Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), played up a bit like Britney Spears by Moore.
There is a subplot involving the President of the United States, President Staton (Dennis Quaid, doing a passable George W. Bush impression), and Staton’s chief of staff, played by Willem Dafoe, looking quite a bit like a bald Dick Cheney. President Staton has been re-elected but is in a funk and hasn’t left his bedroom in weeks, instead spending his time reading… newspapers. To help boost his sagging approval ratings, Staton agrees to appear on American Dreamz as a guest judge.
The other subplot is about a terrorist in training named Omer (Sam Golzari), who we first meet in Afghanistan, stumbling his way through a Taliban training video shoot. Omer isn’t a very good terrorist and he enjoys performing show-tunes in his tent. It’s decided to send him to his family in Orange County, California, where he will await orders. Through a series of increasingly implausible events, Omer ends up a contestant on American Dreamz. He’s not very good, but makes it to the final episode. And since President Staton is going to be a guest judge on the final episode, Omer’s handlers decide to activate him so he can blow himself up and take out Staton. Jihads are funny! Not really.
This is a film of missed opportunities. Sure, we’ve seen many a George W. Bush impression on Saturday Night Live, and Dennis Quaid does a convincing Bush impression, but Weitz only goes so far in lampooning Bush before pulling back the reins. Dafoe is credited as “Chief of Staff” at the Internet Movie Database, but other reviewers credit him as the Vice-President, so it’s not clear if Dafoe is doing an impression of Dick Cheney, or a character sort of like a mix of Cheney and Karl Rove. I don’t know. Dafoe does deliver a good performance.
Are you looking for a film with offensive stereotypes? American Dreamz has enough for everyone, from stereotypical Arabs to Jews and even a gay Arab character, Omer’s cousin Iqbal (Tony Yalda).
Hugh Grant could have skewered Simon Cowell but instead portrays Martin Tweed as a self-loathing man with a mean streak. As a character he’s completely boring.
The film spends a lot of time building to its climax, but the problem is it builds this time slowly, with a few scattered laughs. It’s not difficult to figure out how the movie will end.
If you’re in the mood for a scathing satire, go see Thank You for Smoking. American Dreamz can only dream of being as good as Thank You for Smoking.