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Dreamz’ film fails to capture imagination

Cassie Belek | Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good movie satires engage ripe and sometimes controversial topics with hilariously witty dialogue that guarantees not only a good laugh, but a genuine social commentary. Think “Dr. Strangelove” first, then “Clueless,” followed by “This is Spinal Tap” and “Office Space.” Unfortunately, “American Dreamz,” written and directed by Paul Weitz, fails to live up to its predecessors’ caliber despite a spectacular ensemble cast and a juicy inspiration – more people vote in the “American Idol” competition than vote in the U.S. presidential elections.

“American Dreamz” follows a number of characters, including President Staton (Dennis Quaid), a dimwitted leader of the free world controlled by his powerful Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe). President Staton suffers somewhat of a breakdown, causing him to actually read newspapers and non-fiction books. After disappearing from the public eye, his Chief of Staff encourages him to be a guest judge on the singing contest show “American Dreamz,” hosted by Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). Contestants of “American Dreamz” include white-trash starlet Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and secret Arab terrorist Omer (Sam Golzari).

It’s a brilliant plot combination that falls flat. The jokes don’t come quick enough and when they do, they linger in an abyss. The first half of the movie drags on as we wait for the “American Dreamz” competition, where the real excitement starts.

On the way there, “Tweedy” finds someone as heartless and miserable as himself in Sally, and decides to help her through the competition. Enter the sexual tension that isn’t quite there. Grant and Moore make an odd combination, and despite Grant’s dashing looks, his age shows against Moore’s youthful glow. Both characters could be more sinister, and don’t hold a candle to Simon Cowell’s cruelty. In fact, Cowell is an exaggerated version of Tweedy instead of the other way around.

Shining stars include Golzari as Omer, the budding suicide terrorist, and Chris Klein as William Williams, Sally’s dedicated Iraqi war veteran ex-boyfriend. Omer’s assignment is to blow up the president, but he’s starting to quite enjoy his singing fame and life with his spoiled cousins. Meanwhile, Sally is pretending to be in love with William in order to garner more votes on the show. Golzari successfully portrays a reluctant terrorist seeking a normal life filled with song and dance and Klein plays the red-blooded, devoted, high school sweetheart with just the right amount of exaggeration.

With its talent-heavy ensemble, “American Dreamz” is guilty of not using all its resources. Judy Greer settles for her typical high-strung sidekick part when we know she is capable of more, especially after her stint in “Arrested Development.” Jennifer Coolidge is another underutilized comedic force, playing Sally’s mother – a very uninteresting part. These are roles that could have easily gone to unknowns but instead were wasted on quality actresses. It’s doubtful either will be remembered in their roles, a fault not of their own, but of the movie’s.

“American Dreamz” is funny, but not funny enough to rank high on satire lists. With so many different plot threads, the movie doesn’t completely gel until it’s time for the competition, and it comes too late in the action. The Bo Bice look-alike is priceless and Mandy Moore has perfected the blonde brat routine, but “American Dreamz” lacks the meat and potatoes of a quality comedy. The movie is good for a laugh, but doesn’t break any new ground in the field of satires.