As I was walking out of the theater having just seen American Dreamz, I heard a young girl ask her mother, “What was the point of that movie?” An excellent question, and one that is not easily answered. If I were to make a list of things that would provide fertile ground for satire, that list might include: America’s obsession with celebrity, the war on terrorism, the government, the shallow rich of Hollywood, reality television, cultural differences and class issues. Any of those topics could make for some pointed comedy (some have already been mined in previous films), however I’m not sure that combining all of these ideas in one movie is a good idea.
Writer-director Paul Weitz (who, with his brother Chris, is responsible for the American Pie movies, among others) has lots of ambitions in the would-be satire American Dreamz, but he bites off way more than he (or his cast) can chew. The story follows an American Idol-like TV reality competition headed by host/judge Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) as they search for America?s next big star among hopefuls like Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and Omer (Sam Golzari), a musical theatre-loving Arab uncomfortably linked to a terrorist cell. Meanwhile, on the other coast, the newly reelected President Staton (Dennis Quaid) is withdrawing from his public duties, much to the distress of his wife (Marcia Gay Harden) and Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe). I was disappointed by Weitz?s last outing, In Good Company. It was a film that had tremendous potential that it never fully realized. American Dreamz suffers from the same arrested development and it is perhaps all the more frustrating and disappointing because buried under this scattered, unfunny mess are some good ideas.
Weitz’s biggest crime is wasting a terrific cast. The script doesn?t define its characters and since it has nothing but contempt for them, it?s hard to ask the audience to care what happens to them. Moore has the potential to play a type-A climber quite well, but she?s all over the place here and her character is a heartless opportunist. Ditto for Grant, who can play cads in his sleep?we never get below the smug surface.
The presidential side of the story never works for one second. Quaid‘s semi-retarded variation on Bush, Dafoe‘s Cheney (I mean, Chief of Staff), and Harden‘s mannequin-like First Lady?they are all ridiculous caricatures, and the actors should be embarrassed. As Omer, the potential terrorist, newcomer Golzari is very likeable and I kept wishing he would find his way to a better movie. A supporting cast of good character actors like Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog), Chris Klein (American Pie, Election), Seth Meyers (Saturday Night Live), and Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler’s Mom, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) are completely underused.
The key to satire is subtlety and the tone of the writing and the acting is all wrong. Everyone is very precious and self-congratulatory about the comedy; they?re all winking and nudging us in between loading their undernourished jokes into bazookas and firing them into the audience?s faces. I could gripe about the Arab stereotypes, but the film is an equal opportunity offender?there are dumb politicians, a screaming gay queen, a small town full of white-trash, and many more. So, what is the point of American Dreamz? I?d love to speculate on its deeper hidden meanings, its political motives, and its cultural observations, but frankly, I don?t care.
Leave A Comment