American Dreamz

It tries, bless it, but it's ultimately too glib and sophomoric a satire to be of any note.

Released in 2006, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 10 May 2006 by Scott Morris
American Dreamz image

During any time intensive task, such as, say, writing a film or taking an engineering degree there comes a tipping point; a point where return might not be impossible but certainly where the loss on investment becomes intolerable. If, say, two thirds of the way through the endeavour it becomes apparent that engineering ain't the job for you, or that the film you've written doesn't really know what it's trying to say, you may decide there's no option but to take your lumps and hope it gets better on the other side. This might work out well, although from experience both personal and observed this is not usually the case.

Which is, mainly, the problem with American Dreamz. A new series of the highest rated U.S. T. V. show American Idol, sorry Dreamz hosted by loved / hated Simon Fuller, sorry Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) is about to start, the exciting prospect of which drives Tweed to continual contemplation of suicide. Seemingly sweet girl-next-door type Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) gets a little more in the swing of things, ruthlessly ditching her boyfriend William Williams (Chris Klein) in order to maximise her chances of escaping small-town life.

Also paying attention is recently re-elected President Bush, sorry, Staton (Dennis Quaid), whose Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) is fretting over Staton's newfound habit of actually reading newspapers and trying to work out what's going on in the world rather than blindly, dumbly doing what he's told, and his plummeting approval rating. What better way to shore up his 'man of the people' appeal than guest judge for the final episode?

American Dreamz image

Also also paying attention is some nameless bunch of Arab terrorists, who seize upon the blind luck that sees exiled cell member Omer (Sam Golzari), spectacularly uncommitted terrorist and dedicated showtune revivalist entered onto the show. A simple plan is formed, much to Omer's distaste, get to the final, get close to infidel President and martyr himself. Oh, those whacky terrorists!

This film doesn't seem to have the tone of a film that ought to be released at the moment, given the lamentable state of the world. It has that jaunty, early-to-mid nineties approach to Middle Eastern terrorists that paints them as mildly irritating but ultimately laughable foes ala Executive Decision or True Lies, back when Hollywood at least felt safe in the belief they were invulnerable to such madness while everyone in Europe shifted uncomfortably in their seats and looked sideways at the IRA and ETA and any number of other nationalist groups. This is a film that, much as it pokes fun at American culture and authorities equally well says "Hahaha, look at the towelheads!" (in as many words) which seems at best insensitive, at worst a reinforcement of why anti-American sentiment prevails in the first place, regardless of whether tongues are in cheek or not.

American Dreamz isn't really a satire; it's not really saying anything of any note. It's the cinematic equivalent of the group of surly teenagers hanging about on street corners slugging back Buckfast (or regional cheap alcohol equivalent) shouting "You suck" at anything that passes, leering with the self-confidence of knowing you're right about everything that all teenagers seem to have, regardless of how manifestly clueless they are.

American Dreamz image

I'm not sure if it's fair to say American Dreamz is clueless, but it's certainly unlikely to be the genesis of any head slapping and exclamations of "Eureka". El Prezidente dos Americanos on occasion seems to be dim? Some folks are bored of Talent Show TV, but even more bored of politics? Some people are greedy? Terrorists are naughty, but the reasons they became terrorists are slightly more complex than "They hate freedom"? By Jove Holmes, I think you've cracked it!

It's worth mentioning that this was written and directed by Paul Weitz, the dread name responsible for unleashing the Armageddon-esque American Pie franchise on us, as well as the writer of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Wait! Come back! This isn't that bad! Which perhaps sounds a little contrary to what I've been writing thus far, so let me say this; after watching American Dreamz and then thinking about it, it pretty much falls apart. The bulk of the things that cause it to come undone aren't quite so obvious when you're just idly watching it. The first half at least is actually pretty amusing, even if it's not stretching anyone particularly. Hugh Grant once again plays Hugh Grant, and while Dennis Quaid plays dumb reasonably well most of the time he's overshadowed by Dafoe's scenery-chewing Dick Cheney impersonation. Mandy Moore does alright, perhaps surprisingly and along with a decent turn from Sam Golzari they manage to carry the film well enough for their more established co-stars to embellish over.

It's the final stretch of the film where the cracks become apparent, and the disparate nature of what it's trying to comment on, or insult, or parody, or whatever the actual intention behind it was, just can't gel together to provide anything like a satisfactory conclusion. If you're just after a halfway decent comedy to fill up one hundred odd minutes of your time, American Dreamz will happily do that for you. There's better choices for sure, but certainly not that are out in the cinema just now. If you were looking for the sociopolitical satire that some of its promo material bafflingly positions it as, boy, are you in for a crushing disappointment.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Paul Weitz
Cast list:
Hugh Grant (Martin Tweed)
Dennis Quaid (President Staton)
Mandy Moore (Sally Kendoo)
Willem Dafoe (Chief of Staff)
Chris Klein (William Williams)
Jennifer Coolidge (Mrs. Kendoo)
Sam Golzari (Omer)
Marcia Gay Harden (First Lady Staton)
Tony Yalda (Iqbal Riza)
Noureen DeWulf (Shazzy Riza)
Shohreh Aghdashloo (Nazneen Riza)