Though it may not seem like much, writer/director Paul Weitz is making a major shift - he's crossing over from doing romcoms and dramedies into sociopolitical satire. Unfortunately, Weitz has all the bite of a toothless puppy.
There are three major satirical targets here: Middle-Eastern terrorists, the President of the United States, and an "American Idol"-like tv show called "American Dreamz". Weitz appears to think that the simple combination of these elements is enough to make the movie incisive and interesting. Weitz wants his movie to be "Doonesbury", but it's more like "The Family Circus". Imagine the characters from "American Pie", one of Weitz's earlier efforts, sitting around discussing their views on culture and politics for the first time, and you understand the vapidness of "American Dreamz". It's like listening to Ryan Seacrest spout off about the world political situation after his fifth doobie.
The center of the movie is the faux television show, hosted by the soulless Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), who's grown tired of his role and decides to cast the new season with a stranger mix of characters. He wants an Arab and a Jew and an assortment of other types. This inadvertently gives rise to an unlikely terrorist plot involving an even unlikier contestant named Omar (Sam Golzari), who's supposed to blow himself up upon making the finals and meeting President Staton (Dennis Quaid), who's scheduled to be a judge. Miraculously, he ends up making the final and facing off against Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), who discovers a kinship with Martin through their shared soullessness, a thematic element that blows through the film with all the subtlety of Courtney Love.
The most startling miscalculation is the satire of the President, who's played like a bumbling idiot who's discovering newfound synapses like an 11-year-old with his first pubic hair. Staton and his Vice President (Willem Dafoe) are like caricatures of caricatures, so symbolic of the knee-jerk liberal fantasies of the most ridiculous President Bush imaginable that watching Quaid is more like watching a Quaid cut-out stuck to a popsicle stick in a puppet theater.
If there's a message, it's that American culture is universal and we're all its slaves. Some of us reject it. Some of us accept it. Some of us believe we can manipulate it. It may be fun for some people to see Middle Eastern terrorists rendered as cultural rejects, but the portrayal adds as much depth to the movie as it does to the characters.
"American Dreamz" is as inconsequential as it gets. We learn nothing. We gain nothing. It's the very void it seeks to mock.
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