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7 reviews, 18 user ratings

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American Dreamz
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Even for pinko liberals with a Mandy Moore fetish, this film is unwatchable"
1 stars

I must admit that I went into the screening of the new satirical comedy “American Dreamz” with a greater degree of enthusiasm than I have mustered for most recent films. For starters, it was written and directed by Paul Weitz, a filmmaker who, despite starting his career with the likes of “American Pie,” has created such interesting, thoughtful and funny efforts as the romantic comedy “About a Boy” and “In Good Company,” a social satire that managed to be both caustic and humanistic in a manner that suggested such greats as Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. In addition, the film stars Mandy Moore, one of the more appealing young actresses working today, in a role allowing her to spoof her own roots as a teen-pop princess with savage glee. Most importantly, the film promised to mercilessly mock three of the most improbable and terrifying phenomena on display in America today–George W. Bush, “American Idol” and a populace that would unhesitatingly vote for both by the millions even while displaying a more vested interest in the latter. With a list of ingredients like this, how could a film like “American Dreamz” possibly fail? And yet, it not only fails, it fails on such a spectacular level that you sit there in wonder as to how a film so promising could miss the mark so completely–although it clearly aspires to be a savage dark comedy on the level of “Dr. Strangelove,” it winds up being one of the few films in memory that would pale in comparison to “Canadian Bacon.”

The film opens as President Joe Stanton (Dennis Quaid), a glad-handing doofus fresh from his overwhelming re-election victory, decides on a whim to actually read a newspaper for the first time in years. Shocked to discover that the world is a darker and more calamitous place than he has been led to believe by his Stepford wife (Marcia Gay Harden) and evil chief of staff (Willem Dafoe, alternately channeling Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and his own vampiric creation from “Shadow of the Vampire”), he falls into a depressive funk that leads to rumors that he has had a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, on the west coast, an equally powerful man–caustic talent show host Martin Tweedy (Hugh Grant)–is also suffering from pangs of depression despite being at the height of his own game. He hits upon the idea to bring in some freakishly outsized personalities to bring new life to the show–one of his notions is to have both an Arab and a Jew as contestants, ha-ha.

One of those coughed up by the talent search is Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), a Kelly Clarkson-Britney Spears wannabe whose desire to win at all costs is so overwhelming–she callously dumps her dope boyfriend (Chris Klein) before the contest and, when he enlists in the Army and is wounded in Iraq, just as callously takes him back in a bid for audience sympathy–that it catches even a cynic like Martin off-guard–for him, looking at Sally is like looking in a mirror (only this reflection is taller and has a bigger chest). Another contestant is Omer (Sam Golzari), an Iraqi whose failures at terrorist training (his mother was killed by American bombs) get him shipped off to California and whose unabashed love of show tunes get him a spot on the show. When it is announced that President Stanton will be appearing as a guest judge on the show’s season finale, Omer’s sleeper cell contacts him with a plan that involves him making it to the final round and blowing up Stanton in front of a worldwide audience.

This all sounds like the material for a potentially funny film but somewhere in the journey from concept to execution, something went horribly wrong. For starters, the various plot strands never come close to converging in any organic way–even though we are meant to read Stanton and Tweedy as two sides of the same coin, the political material clashes uneasily with the showbiz stuff from start to finish and they never come close to jelling. That could almost be forgiven if the individual plot strands worked on their own but they fail equally as self-contained units–the political material is ham-handed in the manner of an exceptionally lame “Saturday Night Live” episode, the stuff involving the TV show is exceptionally toothless (as if Weitz didn’t want to make it too cutting and run the risk of not being able to run commercials during the real “American Idol”) and the material involving the two opposing contestants and their motivations is so vaguely filled in that it is impossible to work up any interest in them as characters or as comedic targets. And as for the finale that tries to pull all of these elements together into one cohesive conclusions, the results are so slapdash, silly and incoherently put together that I might have guessed that it was the sorry result of a last-minute reshoot if it didn’t so perfectly match the tone of the rest of the film.

Perhaps realizing too late that the script was a mess, it seems as if everyone involved with the film decided to turn in substandard work. Despite being shot by none other than the acclaimed cinematographer Robert Elswit (whose previous work includes “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films), “American Dreamz” has the kind of flat-footed visual ugliness that is almost offensively bad to the eye. The large and usually reliable cast is, for the most part, equally klutzy in carrying out their duties. Quaid and Grant are supposed to be the most popular men in their respective fields but both play their characters with such one-note determination that it is impossible to believe that they could sell themselves to even the most gullible members of the public. Of course, they come across as masters of subtlety compared to Dafoe, who villainous-man-behind-the-curtain turn here makes his work in “Speed 2" look like a master class in restraint by comparison. There are lots of familiar faces in smaller roles–besides those I have mentioned, we also get turns from Shoreh Aghdashloo, Jennifer Coolidge, Seth Meyers and Judy Greer–but they flounder about to no avail. The only one who comes close to pulling off a credible performance is Mandy Moore, who is pretty funny early on as the diva-in-training until her character winds up nose-diving in the end with the rest of the film.

To be honest, I did laugh a couple of times throughout “American Dreamz”–besides Moore’s performance, I liked a few of the individual lines (including a bit about the new “accelerated training” program adopted by the Army) and the original songs by Stephen Trask that effectively mimic the bombastic-but-empty style favored by most “American Idol” competitors–but all they do is point out how lame the surrounding material is while suggesting how good it could have been. Imagine a satirical film put together by people with absolutely no concept of what the word “satire” means and, to judge from the results here, only a rudimentary grasp of basic filmmaking skills and you have “American Dreamz” in a nutshell–a film whose lasting legacy may be in the way that it unites people from all over the political spectrum in 107 minutes of mirth-free tedium.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13928&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/21/06 04:09:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/21/09 Jeff Wilder Had potential. But ultimately too defanged and hamstrung by a one-joke premise. 2 stars
3/29/09 R Lan Three words: This was terrible! 1 stars
3/10/07 Ryan_A Completely misses the mark, though not for lack of trying. Moore's good, as is Grant 2 stars
1/27/07 Brittle Miss Sunshine C'mon,Peter Sobczynski,don't insult this by classing with FREEDOMLAND orSUPER EX-GRLFRND! 4 stars
1/16/07 Cassandra Lund Film's only commonality with GW Bush is either'd be better than a Hillary admenstruation! 4 stars
10/30/06 ES They advertised this as a 'president does tv' movie? Ok ,way too long and not that smart 2 stars
7/10/06 Cheryl Stitt Yep, early reference to ovine proctophagy gives rest of movie harder act than it can follow 2 stars
6/21/06 Carmen Mistletoe Dr Phil ad on efilmcritic -- it's really going to pot! Dafoe in Dick Cheney makeup? Huunh? 5 stars
5/25/06 The Velcro Warlock After early talk 'tween Sally & her brother, disappointing lack of "scatliogical" humor! 3 stars
4/30/06 john bale Some truth & laughs, lightweight satire on Reality TV and Geo. Bush 4 stars
4/28/06 Alex Paquin "Network" for the younger crowd, better than I expected 3 stars
4/27/06 Jen Wilson Horrible idea... Horrible Execution 2 stars
4/25/06 Mase Misses more than hits, the script sparkles at times but just overloads. 3 stars
4/24/06 Fred Liitle humor, a lot of Bush-hating mean spiritedness 1 stars
4/22/06 dee Just a pitiful excuse for satire! Not smart, not witty, not good! 1 stars
4/22/06 jt This movie really really stunk! The review is dead on target - the Simpson's had far more 1 stars
4/06/06 Riki What? Seriously?! 3 stars
4/04/06 Jeff Movie was great. Makes you think! 4 stars
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  21-Apr-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Oct-2006



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Paul Weitz

Written by
  Paul Weitz

  Dennis Quaid
  Hugh Grant
  Mandy Moore
  Willem Dafoe
  Marcia Gay Harden
  Chris Klein

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