American Dreamz is one of those films that follows too many characters for far too long before bringing them all together in one place for a reason we don’t really care about. The one place in this film is America’s top-rated TV show, American Dreamz, clearly supposed to represent American Idol. American Dreamz is run and hosted by Simon Cowell knock-off Martin Tweed, played by Hugh Grant.
Tweedy, as he is called (“like Tweety bird, but with a d”), is a self-serving bastard, and his on-air abusive jerk persona is not put on to get ratings. He really is that mean. But behind the scenes, he worries perfunctorily about whether someone could possibly love him. It’s not very believable, though Grant delivers his formulaic lines as well as anyone could.
Tweedy wants controversial, larger-than-life personalities on his show, so ends up with an ensemble that focuses on two major players: Sally Kandu and Omer Obeidi.
Kandu, played by Mandy Moore, is clearly Carrie Underwood—in fact at one point, I said, “I think she’s supposed to be Carrie Underwood,” and my daughter replied, “Oh, I thought that was Carrie Underwood!” She’s a middle class Ohio girl with higher ambitions, but for the purposes of the show they play her up as trailer-trash-made-good. On her way up the show-biz ladder, she dumps her small-town boyfriend, William, played by Chris Klein, who joins the Army in his grief, gets sent to Iraq, gets shot his first day, and immediately comes home a war hero. Sally’s agent decides this is good publicity, so Sally pretends to get back together with William, though William thinks it’s real.
Okay, two major storylines down, two to go. Now we follow Omer (Sam Golzari), surreptitiously practicing showtunes in an Iraqi terrorist training camp. He’s sent out to an American sleeper cell, and since Tweedy wants an Arab (to go with his Hasidic Jew), he gets chosen to compete. His terrorist number comes up, and he’s asked to do a suicide mission in the show’s finale.
Up to this, we might have three decent movies—the professional bastard who wakes up middle aged and lonely and has to decide whether to change his ways or pay the price, the small town girl who has to decide just how far she’ll go for ambition, and the terrorist who comes to America prepared to hate it, but ends up appreciating many of the things and people he finds here.
We get hints of all those things, but never enough to really hook us in, though, again, I think the actors do what they can with it. But it slides from strange to absurd with the inclusion of the President of the United States, played by Dennis Quaid. President Staton wakes up to a second term, an advisor who is more Carl Rove than Carl Rove (Willem Dafoe), a supportive First Lady (Marcia Gay Harden), and a bit of a nervous breakdown. The Statons are clearly supposed to be the Bushes, right down to the Texas accents, but (in an unusual move for Hollywood) are given credit for having both brains and integrity.
Did you check to see if we were still talking about the same movie? We are. The President’s life intersects with that of the American Dreamz players, a sort of tongue-in-cheek tragedy ensues, and everything ends happily ever after.
It has some entertaining moments—seeing Omer try to dance for his first number is comical, and Omer’s thoroughly Americanized cousins provide a lot of comic relief. And the President’s story line is surprisingly poignant. But writer/director Paul Weitz doesn’t seem to know if he’s doing an exploration of something or a satire of it. We never know how seriously to take it, because it doesn’t seem like Weitz has made up his mind on that score, either. But actors should be allowed to play their characters straight, not just to do cheap imitations of other performers. Or even politicians. If they had been, we might get more out of this movie