Filmmaker Paul Weitz made a remarkably commercial debut as co-director (with his
brother Chris) of AMERICAN PIE in 1999. The pair collaborated further on the terrific
ABOUT A BOY (2002), allowing actor Hugh Grant to tweak his screen image and portray a real,
albeit charming, cad. By 2004, Weitz had gone solo and bestowed on audiences
IN GOOD COMPANY that examined the question of experience versus youth, giving Dennis
Quaid a strong role as a business executive whose new boss is young enough to be his son. In the
meantime, Weitz also has established himself in New York theater circles having had several plays
For his latest big screen effort, he has turned to satire but has selected some easy targets
drawn from pop culture and politics. AMERICAN DREAMZ almost attempts too much. Like
SYRIANA, it juggles multiple storylines that eventually converge, but in this case, the plots are
drawn with the broadest strokes.
In the film, AMERICAN DREAMZ is the name of the most popular television show ever,
clearly inspired by "AMERICAN IDOL" (and to a lesser extent, "STAR SEARCH"). The Simon
Cowell-like host and producer, Martin Tweed is played by Hugh Grant in full out bastard form. The
actor subverts his previous screen image to portray an out and out callous, insensitive, driven
guy – one who hates his accomplishments and his life. He may drive a Ferrari and have a
gorgeous house, but he is emotionally bankrupt. The popularity of the show, however, catches
the attention of Washington. In order to shore up the flagging ratings of the recently reelected
president Joe Staton (Dennis Quaid doing a riff on the work of Chris Cooper in SILVER CITY
doing a take on U.S. President George W. Bush), it is decreed the president will serve as a
guest judge on the show’s finale. So we are treated to scenes in living quarters of
The White House, where the pajama-clad leader has holed up in his bedroom to read
newspapers and books. The First Lady (Marcia Gay Harden in an underwritten role) encourages
her husband to take some of her “happy pills” to feel better. The chief of staff (Willem Dafoe,
wearing a bald cap and a prosthetic pot belly) goes into all-out spin mode, reminding journalists
that we are at war and effectively serving as puppet master, down to utilizing an earpiece into
which he dictates “the message.”
That alone is fodder for at least two films, or at least an intriguing one that might compare
and contrast Tweed and Staton. Weitz up the ante, however, by adding in additional storylines.
There are the contestants for the show, including Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), an ambitious
Ohio girl with a stage mother (Jennifer Coolidge). Sally is cold and calculating and once she
achieves her goal, she decides to boot her puppy dog boyfriend William Williams (Chris Klein,
still doing a version of the dumb jock he first perfected in ELECTION). Devastated by her
rejection, William manages to enlist in the Army and get sent to Iraq where he is wounded in
near record time. Once home, Sally’s new agent (Seth Meyers) instructs her that their relationship
would have great appeal to Middle America, many of whom would be voting for her on the
Then there’s Omer (newcomer Sam Golzari, a real find), an Iraqi terrorist in training who
is so inept that he is sent to Southern California where his sleeper cell will probably enjoy a very
long nap. Well, that was the plan, but Omer – who loves to sing and dance – is selected for
AMERICAN DREAMZ and his sleeper cell instructs him that he must make it to the finale in
order to become a suicide bomber and kill the president on live television.
That’s a lot of plot for a satire to hold and sometimes the film seems to be trying way too
hard. Most of the characters in Weitz’s screenplay are very loosely drawn, almost bordering on
the cartoon. In some cases, the actors bring something special to the part – notably Grant
whose facial expressions are often hilarious – but good actors like Shoreh Agdashloo, Marcia
Gay Harden and Willem Dafoe are more often than not left flailing.
Film satires are notoriously difficult to pull off successfully mainly because the time frame
involved in producing a movie. Think of the SCARY MOVIE franchise: some of the films it takes
on have long been forgotten by the time of their release, while others have been fodder for comics
ad nauseum. AMERICAN DREAMZ offers some funny bits but it contains more misses than hits.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
and some sexual references
Running time: 107 min.
Viewed at the AMC Loews 84th Street 6
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.