A Dull “Idol” Clone

“American Dreamz” is Paul Weitz’s triple combo send-up to “American Idol,” George W. Bush, and War in Iraq. From the trailer alone, it’s evident that the casting is a hoot. Hugh Grant is an oily and all-personality host/judge/producer of a wildly popular singing contest called “American Dreamz.” Dennis Quiad is the pondering American president who becomes a special guest judge on the show. Mandy Moore plays Sally Kendoo, an aspiring singer who’ll do about anything to win the hearts of millions. And newcomer Sam Golzari is Omer, Sally’s Arab opponent, who’s both a show tunes fanatic and a terrorist ordered to kill the president. Ha.

Clearly, “American Dreamz” is quite the bold comedy with such hot-topic issues. But for a movie that got balls, its hands are butterfingers. It’s too bad that writer and director Paul Weitz can’t get a better grasp of his material. He’s already lucky to have the right game players, but they’re wasted on a funky storyline and timid execution.

I actually hate “American Idol.” People should be getting sick of that reality show by now. I don’t understand how it’s still the top-rated show after all these years. And yet, I don’t get either how we’re still tolerating President Bush and the War in Iraq. I have a feeling Weitz feels the same way and maybe that’s why he made this movie. But the tricky part is turning that frustration into a comedy. I understand how Weitz avoids being directly abrasive. You can’t go “Hey America, look at your dumb president and your #1 show is basically a junk food entertainment. You’re a bunch of idiots.” You can’t do that because that’s insulting to people who voted for Bush and millions and millions more people who vote in “American Idol.”

But Weitz’s approach doesn’t work that well either. He goes for subtlety and delicately unfolds the movie with only amusing jabs here and there. And then, he becomes counterproductive by trying to distance the movie from the real world it tries to mock. As a consequence, the show “American Dreamz” looks like a tacky version of the “American Idol” we know. It doesn’t even have a smidge of AI’s mass appeal. I also found it hard to believe that Sally and Omer are in the final two. At best, Omer has an average singing voice. Wouldn’t it better if he had a voice that would rival Ms. Moore’s? (Or is this a commentary on Americans’ tendency to vote for mediocrity over talent?) I don’t know. Why make actors Grant, Quaid, and Dafoe (looking Cheney-ish) play versions of real-life public figures, if the setting itself is ludicrously unrealistic? It is as if the movie knows its targets well, but is afraid to punch all the way. To me, the movie is only halfway done. This ain’t no “dreamz,” it’s a “napz.” After having watched the honest humor and sly sting of “Thank You for Smoking,” “American Dreamz” is an American idle by comparison.

Grade: C

Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein, Judy Greer, and Sam Golzari
Screenplay by
Paul Weitz
Directed by
Paul Weitz
Rated PG-13 brief strong language and some sexual references