Wednesday, March 22, 2006

American Dreamz

American Dreamz
Written and Directed by Paul Weitz
Universal Pictures

American Dreamz opens April 21.

The post 9/11 world has seen the rise and ultimate media downfall of President George Bush. Numerous potshots at his intelligence, his cabinet, the "red" states who put him into power, and so on are part of everyday life. But more importantly, the post 9/11 world has brought us "American Idol." After its first season in 2002, it has become the number one show during the Spring, as we watch the hilarious tryouts that have brought us such pseudo-celebrities as William Hung get weeded out by the judges, namely, Simon Cowell. After those initial rounds, when the judges have put the "best of the best" onstage, the American people get their chance to vote for the new Kelly Clarkson. "American Idol" has not been without its detractors, either.

So, here, Paul Weitz of American Pie and About a Boy fame has combined the post 9/11 pastimes all into one movie. In this, Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) is the Clarkson wannabe who seems destined for stardom. Hugh Grant plays Simon Cowell, ahem, Martin Tweed, the judge of the talent competition "American Dreamz." Dennis Quaid is Bush-like President Staton, who is really a puppet of the Cheney-like Vice President Sutter (Willem Dafoe). Staton has been offered a shot to judge the championship episode. Wild card Omer (Sam Golzari) is an Arab who has been hand-picked by "Dreamz" producers to find a flavorful performer for the bored Tweed, who insists the ratings must stay high (and oh by the way, let's get a Jewish performer as well). They don't know he's been sent by a terrorist organization to be a sleeper cell in the U.S., and the terrorists want to use Omer to kill the president on the night of the finals.

And so, there's the threadbare description of the plot dealings. Not a total success, but Weitz does weave these ideas into a workable movie. It starts off sluggish and then it builds some steam towards the end. I don't know if this was Weitz's intent, but he seems to be making fun of the American people more than he's making fun of any one character, and average American people aren't shown that much--he sort of makes a statement that the people who put a man like Bush in power are the same ones voting for "American Idol." The voting is based on a mirage created by the media--SNL vet Seth Meyers plays Sally's agent and is the funniest part of the movie, as he shapes her image and looks for every conceivable angle to help her (and of course himself) succeed.

And the more I write about it, the more I like it. I knew watching this the first time that I would like it better on a second viewing, which I may very well partake. This movie has a lot on its mind, and I like the way Weitz goes after the President here--it's not some hateful attack. Quaid's performance is actually pretty touching, it's a different perspective on the President after the V for Vendettas of the world have assaulted the megaplexes. I'm also going to single out Mandy Moore, who I think has found her niche in acting after this and the satirical Saved! It might never make her a real movie star, but she's finding a comfort zone in this genre.

If I had one qualm it's that it's incomplete. There are a lot of characters and they don't get fleshed out, and there's a lot that seems to be missing (there's even a scene from the trailer that isn't in the movie--which isn't uncommon but it points towards more editing than Weitz probably wanted). But like I said, it's got potential to get repeat viewings from some people. Box office wise, this will probably tank--but we might have a Drop Dead Gorgeous kind of video hit here.


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