Thursday, April 20, 2006

“American Dreamz” isn’t simply a mock-a-thon of both “American Idol” and the

current White House residents.

It’s a full frontal assault on our often deserving culture. Writer-director Paul Weitz uses his new seriocomedy to mock naive jingoism, our affinity for Hummers and our desperate quest for stardom.

It’s like hitting a bull’s-eye

hyphenated per APe, the target gets blasted, but it hardly requires a sharpshooter’s steady hand.

Coming from a writer who can find the sympathetic essence buried in both hormonal teens (“American Pie”) and a lying cad (“About a Boy”), the cynicism amounts to a cold shower.

In Mr. Weitz’s “Dreamz,” the most sympathetic figure is a terrorist with a weakness for show tunes.

The two-pronged satire opens with a frazzled President Staton (Dennis Quaid, doing a low-key Bush impersonation) deciding to read the morning papers for a change. He’s shocked to learn from the New York Times all about the three factions in Iraq who don’t get along. Suddenly, he’s hooked on knowledge and can’t get enough.

The first lady (Marcia Gay Harden in a role far beneath her) is amused at first by her husband’s newfound curiosity, and so is Staton’s vice president (Willem Dafoe, head shaven to create a Cheney resemblance). Their giggles dry up when the president gets so lost in headlines he won’t leave his bedroom.

The commander in chief’s approval ratings begin to plummet thanks to his new reclusiveness, forcing his chief of staff to consider an extreme measure to jolt the polls. He cuts a deal to let the president guest judge on the smash reality show “American Dreamz,” with Simon Cowell stand-in Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant in full slime mode).

Meanwhile, two potential Dreamerz are plotting to do anything necessary to win the singing show. Transparently wholesome Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore, proving again she’s best when playing against type) is a manipulative crooner who uses her boyfriend’s Iraq veteran status to boost her numbers. And young Omer (endearing newcomer Sam Golzari) is assigned by an al Qaeda squad to infiltrate the show, make the finals and then blow up President Staton on live television.

“Dreamz” follows its narrative threads with equal interest, and humor bubbles forth from some unlikely sources. It’s hard to take the al Qaeda menace seriously when he gets caught up in the singing competition with such decadent, heathenish abandon.

So why doesn’t “Dreamz” savage its subjects like it should? For starters, it’s unnecessary to taunt “American Idol” when Mr. Cowell does essentially that on every broadcast. It’s like parodying the already over-the-top “Jerry Springer Show.”

And the “Bush is dumb” humor is already as stale as the “Clinton is randy” gags that we endured for eight years.

Mr. Weitz ultimately paints his president as naive, not cruel. He’s an overgrown child who doesn’t know what he’s doing is wrong. That conceit is hardly the kind of nuanced critique that could have made “Dreamz” sizzle.

“American Dreamz” delivers more chuckles than most comedies these days, but Mr. Weitz misses the bigger satirical picture by a wide margin.


WHAT: “American Dreamz”

TING: PG:-13 (Sexual situations, comic violence and adult language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Paul Weitz. Cinematography by Robert Elswit.


107 minutes



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