DVD Review: American Dreamz

Posted in Reviews on July, 13 2006 4:49 PM

Starring: Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Willem Defoe, Mandy Moore, Jennifer Coolidge
Cert: 12

Martin Tweed (Grant), or 'Tweedy' to his friends, is the presenter and producer of the most popular television programme in the World, American Dreamz, where more people vote for the contestants than they do for the American president. He is embarking on the next season but wants more meat to his contestants; a bit of controversy.

President Staton (Quaid) has just been re-elected but is suffering a crisis of conscience; he has just discovered that there are lots of things going on in the World that he either didn't know about or didn't fully understand. His Chief of Staff (Dafoe) makes it quite clear that nothing has changed and that as long as he continues doing as he is advised, then things will continue smoothly. Staton doesn't leave his bedroom for 3 weeks.

Bumbling Iraqi soldier, Omer Obeidi, is being sent to America not as a splinter cell, as he was told, but to keep him out of the way. He moves in with his cousins and is able to realise his (and his dead mother's) passion for show-tunes when he is accidentally chosen as a contestant for the show.

In a desperate bid to up the President's public profile he is pushed to be a guest judge in the final of American Dreamz.

Omer's faction wish to make the most of this situation so devise a bomb that Omer can wear and detonate when he gets to meet the President. As long as he gets to the finals, of course.

Because this was directed and written by Paul Weitz who has, to his credits, American Pie and About A Boy, you would presume you could be in for another gross-out, comedy romp that satirises the World's (but specifically America's) prioritisation for mediocrity over the important things in life. On top of that, the whole issue of Iraqi suicide bombers directly attacking a blatantly incompetent President could make it a dangerous and dark comedy.

No, no, no and no.

Hugh Grant is supposed to be playing a Simon Cowell type figure; self-centred, egotistical, unscrupulous and successful. There are occasional funny moments of unadulterated nastiness but the script doesn't know whether to always keep him as an unrelenting dictator with a posh accent or a misunderstood cockney 'just wanting to be loved'.

And this seems to be the overriding issue, that the entire film doesn't know what it's supposed to be so ends up being nothing much at all. Spreading itself thinly across all the characters' stories so never spending enough time on specifics so ultimately not giving a monkeys about any of them.

Quaid's blithering president and puppeteering Chief of Staff are an embarrassing partnership; two overused characters with zero depth or credibility. To laugh at satire, it has to be believable and these guys aren't. Quaid isn't even a parody of Bush, he's lazy scripting.

With the funniest elements of the real Pop/American Idol being the car-crash element of auditions, it amazes me that this was completely overlooked. With the point of Idol being to discover the height of talent it amazes even more that the finalists of this film are so blatantly talentless. Mandy Moore may be a singer in real life but she has zero personality and would've been bumped out of the competition in the opening rounds.

Grant's overbearing critic isn't given the room to truly let loose on any dire contestants. This is worsened when he does pick on three, his put-downs are poor and directed at victims with better abilities than the leading protagonists. His derisive remarks are thrown out just for the sake of it rather than made as criticism as Cowell does.

So maybe it's supposed to be a farce. In which case there should be more jokes, more slapstick and at least one reference to bodily fluids.

Perhaps a light-hearted reflection of the World. Why can't we all just get along? In which case the terrorists shouldn't be depicted as men who just need to watch a bit more American TV to get them to change their fundamentalist religious beliefs.

Regardless of whether American Dreamz is crossing the boundaries of good taste by making suicide bombers a target of comedy (because of course they can be) this film just isn't funny. It's a showcase for Mandy Moore's (lack of) abilities and a feeble attempt to latch on to the success of American Idol.

Special Features
The lack of anything special about this film is further elucidated by the complete lack of bonus material. Obviously the distributors lost faith in the piece and didn't want to waste any more money on it.


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