- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Writer-director Paul Weitz says making “American Dreamz,” his new comedy cracking wise about both the Bush administration and the country’s favorite televised singing competition, was “like sticking my chin out and saying, ‘Give it a good ol’ sock.’”

Taunt the Republican Party and “American Idol” fans, and you’ve alienated a good two-thirds of the country.

Add a sympathetic terrorist character, and essentially you’ve covered the rest.

The soft-spoken Mr. Weitz doesn’t want to be Michael Moore 2.0. He’s just following his subconscious, to hear him tell it.

“I had this weird feeling being told we’re at war … but not changing my personal behavior one iota,” the writer-director says during a stop in the District to promote his new film.

The unease intensified under his sense of cultural whiplash.

“I’d be reading the paper in the morning and being stressed out by terrorism and international politics, but by the evening, I was more obsessed with who was winning on ‘American Idol,’” Mr. Weitz says.

The result is “American Dreamz,” a cross-pollination between the reality-show craze and the umpteenth entertainment satire of the Bush administration.

The film, which stars Hugh Grant and Dennis Quaid and opens nationwide tomorrow, also comments on one of the basic tenets of our country, says Mr. Weitz, whose previous films include the vastly dissimilar “About a Boy” and “American Pie.”

“Everybody is supposed to have a dream. … It’s the central premise of being an American, but does it make it impossible to deal with reality?” he asks.

Mr. Weitz doesn’t directly answer questions about why Mr. Quaid’s character is so clearly modeled after President Bush or why the terrorist is the film’s most likable character. He doesn’t dodge like a politician, per se, but rather speaks in a roundabout fashion.

He’s more forthright, however, when discussing his direction of terrorism on-screen.

“The tendency to dehumanize people makes it very hard to grapple with issues in a serious way,” he says. “Whenever we’re at war, quote-unquote, we dehumanize the enemy.”

Laughter, he insists, is the right elixir for our troubled times, echoing Albert Brooks’ intentions with the recent “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.”

“Once you’ve laughed at something, it’s slightly less frightening and theoretically lets you think about it more clearly,” Mr. Weitz says.

Hard to believe this is the same man responsible for evoking the connection between puberty and freshly baked desserts in “American Pie.”

That breakthrough sex comedy still may be his calling card, but Mr. Weitz says he filmed it less for the shock value and more for the message.

“The first thing we were trying to do is make a teen sex comedy less misogynist, have the girls in control of the situation,” Mr. Weitz says, adding that the young men in the film were allowed to have more emotions than in any of the “Porky’s” films or similar big-screen sex farces.

Though Mr. Weitz, 40, likely won’t win any Republican fans with “Dreamz,” he can sound downright conservative when it comes to sexuality.

“It should have meaning if you’re having sex with somebody,” he says, noting the overriding message of “Pie” — if you can overlook the gallons of gross-out humor and sexual innuendo.

Mr. Weitz proved his career was more than just R-rated romps with both “About a Boy” and “In Good Company,” and his next projects promise to be equally contemplative. One film follows a worker at a shelter for the homeless who runs into his destitute father. The other attempts to find common ground between what Bill O’Reilly calls the “secular progressives” and those of strong faith.

Despite the serious subject matter, neither film is guaranteed to be laugh-free. It’s just not in him.

“My way of processing something huge is with comedy,” Mr. Weitz says.

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