Review: American Dreamz (2006)

Note: This article was originally published in Technician on March 17, 2006.


'American Dreamz' more dream than reality

Just when you thought Hollywood had run out of originality, behold: a film involving a Broadway-obsessed terrorist who randomly bursts into song. Now there's something you don't see every day. But it's a key element of Universal's American Dreamz, which takes a satirical look at American politics and culture and isn't your typical comedy.

The plot is indeed as dream-like as they come -- the recently re-elected President (Dennis Quaid) wakes up one morning and decides to read the newspaper, only to discover that he's completely out of touch with what's happening in the world. So he holes up for a few weeks reading every newspaper and book he can get his hands on and then becomes a guest host on the reality show American Dreamz to boost his approval ratings. Hosted by Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), the show has a variety of individuals, each competing to be the country's hottest new star. Among the favored to win are Sally (Mandy Moore), a crafty blonde bombshell who will do anything to win, and Omer, an Arab straight out of terrorist school assigned to assassinate the president during the show's finale. Need I say more?

Paul Weitz has written and directed a film that manages to be both a funny and surprisingly intelligent satire. He pokes fun at everything from politics to American consumerism to pop culture icons with hilarious results, provided one is familiar with the butt of the joke.

The humor is hardly what one could call sophisticated, relying mainly on sweeping generalizations and stereotypes. All Arabs are terrorists. All show contestants are frauds. All political leaders are morons. Yet strangely enough, this blatant exaggeration of reality is the strength of the film.

It's no coincidence that the president and vice president bear a striking resemblance to Bush and Cheney or that Tweed is reminiscent of Simon Cowell. Weitz has turned the formula for comedy on its head, refusing to put jokes in a film about real people and instead injecting a drop of real life into a world inhabited by cartoons.

It is for that exact reason that many people may not like this film -- it's too fantastical to be taken seriously. The jokes work when they hit things close to home, and the rest of the time they are too unreal to be funny. Either way, don't expect to remember them 15 minutes after the show. But if a show-tune-singing suicide bomber is the stuff your dreams are made of then this movie just might be for you.