American Dreamz

The tagline for American Dreamz is "Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President."
Hard to do, I know, but try.
Despite its good intentions, I think American Dreamz bit off more than it could chew. This movie includes the following storylines:
  • A spoof of American Idol that has is in its tenth year and even the host is bored to tears with it.
  • The (English) host of the show (Hugh Grant) simply submits to this shallow life and has come to terms with the fact that he's unlovable. Of course, this is complicated when he develops a thing for a contestant.
  • The contestant (Mandy Moore) is willing to do anything to win (she cultivates a white trash image even though she's middle class) and breaks up with her boyfriend (Chris Klein) after explaining that their lives are going in different directions.
  • She has to take him back, though, because the break-up drives him into signing up for military service and he's shipped off to Iraq. On his first day, he's shot by a stray bullet and comes back a war hero, so Mandy has to take him back for publicity.
  • Also on the Middle East issue, Omar (Sam Golzari) is a reject from a terrorist training camp who is sent to live with unsuspecting, wealthy cousins in southern California. (They say Orange County in the film, but I recognized every location from my childhood - they were in the Valley.)
  • While Omar is constantly surprised by American consumerism run rampant in his cousins, he inadvertently ends up as a contestant on American Dreamz. (The host insisted that they needed an Arab, so they had gone to accept Omar's cousin who can't sing but found Omar instead.)
  • So his sleeper cell contacts him and instructs him to get to the finals, where he will then wear a bomb and kill the President.
  • That's right. The president (Dennis Quaid) is going to be the guest judge on American Dreamz. The President was booked onto the show by his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe), who is trying to repair the president's image after the President stopped making public appearances and rumors started about a nervous breakdown.
  • He stopped making public appearances because he read a newspaper for the first time after being re-elected and freaked out after being flooded with the knowledge that the issues he thought were simple things aren't.
  • He didn't know the complicated details because he never made any decisions -- it was just his advisors calling all the shots. (Think a more sympathetic Bush and a less repellent Cheney.)
  • Rather than make him angry, this makes him sad. (Dennis Quaid plays this role beautifully... you'd almost feel sympathetic for Bush if you thought that he ever questioned his decisions... or read the New York Times. If you look on the deleted scenes, his wife -- Marcia Gay Harden, who does an excellent Laura Bush imitation and calls her husband "President Poopy" -- has to explain that sometimes, the Lord has a plan for you to sit back and smile while other people make decisions, even if you feel that you could make better ones.)
Are you still with me? Yea... that isn't even going into the complications that ensue when everything takes off the ground (and it isn't touching on the throw-away comedy that was lost in the shuffle... like the contestant that's a Jewish rapper, Jennifer Coolidge as Mandy's mother, John Cho & Judy Greer as Hugh Grant's assistants, etc.). It's no wonder that the first episode of American Dreamz doesn't even start until you're at least an hour into the movie. The whole thing had hints of Saved! (another Mandy Moore gem of a performance) but it wasn't nearly as focused and polished. As for director Paul Weitz, he probably did his best but he should have cut something. I haven't seen American Pie (and kind of refuse to -- it's not quite my cup of tea), but I did like About a Boy. In Good Company was a good idea poorly executed. While American Dreamz had its funny moments, it has too many things to deal with that it has to sacrifice comedy for plot... which isn't always ideal for a comedic satire.

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