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At The Movies: Hollywood Nightmare:

American Dreamz: *

Sasha Stone

Mirror Film Critic

Paul Weitz is many things. Lovable sap, good with actors, admirably ambitious. One thing he is not, however, is a brilliant satirist. How he ever got the green light to make the god-awful American Dreamz is right up there with the brilliant minds who thought Basic Instinct 2 was a good idea.

American Dreamz could have been written by an 11-year-old. A very liberal, mostly shallow 11-year-old who thinks the world would be a much better place if terrorists, politicians and television producers would only listen to Hollywood idealists.

Alas, American Dreamz was unfortunately written by Weitz, who delivered a graceful, quiet success with his last effort, In Good Company. Before that, Weitz worked with his brother Chris on About a Boy. Weitz is good at giving us characters we like and feel for. His intentions are always honorable; he wants it all to turn out right for everybody. But in doing so here, he obliterates his own message with his own ignorance.

American Dreamz is one of those movies you want to walk out of ten minutes in. Like a bad singer on the show the film lampoons, American Idol, you can see him trying really hard to look like he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to make us laugh with his keen, sharp insight into the sickness of America but all we want to do is flee the theater and head to the nearest poisonous form of distracting entertainment, thus undoing the heavy message Weitz is trying so desperately to get across.

The film comes at its ultimately obvious and nauseating “message” through several different, equally dull storylines. Hugh Grant (who did his best work in About a Boy) as Martin Tweed, producer and host of the wildly popular show American Dreamz (a la Simon Cowell of American Idol) chews through women, has no personal life and manipulates his show for ratings. The white trash, ruthless Martha Kendoo (Mandy Moore) “will do anything” to win the show, including using her cast-off boyfriend as a prop. And finally, there’s Sam Golzari as Omer, a terrorist sent to America on an assassination assignment. Turns out Omer has always wanted to live out his dream to sing show tunes, and he sings his way onto American Dreamz. That would be funny and believable to an 11-year-old.

Which brings us to the last and worst of the plotlines, the President – Dennis Quaid (who was just marvelous in In Good Company) as Bush, Marcia Gay Harden as Laura and Willem Dafoe with a grey half-donut around his skull as Dick Cheney, the real mastermind behind the Presidency. Now there’s an original thought, eh? The film opens just as Bush is reelected, the moment he decides to start reading newspapers and think for himself. Part of his administration’s efforts to boost his poll numbers is having him appear on American Dreamz.

Of course, all plotlines barrel toward the final episode of the show, where Omer is supposed to fulfill his spiritual quest by winning American Dreamz and killing the President.

The film’s ending wants to be witty but in truth, it could have ended many different ways – Weitz’s choice was a weak, flaccid one, unbelievable in every conceivable way, starting with the lack of Secret Service agents guarding the President who is guest-hosting American Dreamz. Weitz was so eager to show us that the President really could be smart if only “they” would stop telling him what to say. He forgot that the President is so tightly guarded he flew over New Orleans in Air Force One after Hurricane Katrina.

Didn’t one person working on American Dreamz stop to think that it is almost physically impossible that a bomb could have been smuggled into the television studio where the President himself would be appearing? In this post-9/11 world?!

But believe me, if you’re a thinking person, by the time the film lumbers toward its anti-climax, you’ll have checked your watch a dozen times and quietly wondered if you remembered to TiVo American Idol.

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