Dictionary.com defines satire as: irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity. It is probably one of the most difficult genres of film to construct due to the elevated level of effort necessary. Irony, sarcasm and especially wit are things you rarely find in modern screenplays. It’s just not the easiest road to completion. American Dreamz is film that desperately wants to embody these qualities, but only succeeds on occasion.
American Dreamz (a talent search akin to American Idol) is the hottest TV show in America. It’s host, the shallow Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), is tired of the same-old same-old contestants and wants some unusual blood. His search yields white trash karaoke singer Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), and terrorist training camp washout Omer (Sam Golzari). Sally will do anything to win public opinion, including exploiting her war veteran boyfriend, William Williams (Chris Klein). Omer just wants to sing, but the plot thickens when he is activated by his sleeper cell contact in order to kill guest judge President Staton (Dennis Quaid). Who will win, and who will survive American Dreamz?
What we have here is a comedy masquerading as a satire, and it isn’t that great on either level. You’d think that you could make a great, skewering film based around a very popular “reality” show, but writer-director Paul Weitz (In Good Company) doesn’t take advantage of this rich territory. Instead, he wants to make a statement about the current presidential administration, which is heavy-handed and not all that satirical or funny. What does work is the sweet story of the Arab kid who just wants to follow his heart, but unfortunately that gets buried under the “more important” elements of the story.
There are some funny moments here, most of which center around Omer and his openly gay, wannabe singer cousin, Iqbal (Tony Yalda). Yalda is so arrogantly flamboyant about his non-talent that you can’t help but snicker every time he appears on screen. More laughs come from the terrorists sent to activate Omer (“press here to explode yourself” reads the bomb he is supposed to wear), but considering people are already upset with the trailer of United 93, I’m uncertain if anyone will find this humorous. It made me a little uneasy, but I did laugh.
Hugh Grant (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) is appropriately slimy as Tweed, but he’s a stereotype, and doesn’t leave much of an impression. Mandy Moore (Saved!) is charismatic as usual as the opportunistic Sally, but I’m still waiting for her to get that really great breakout role that seems to constantly elude her, as it does here.
Dennis Quaid (Yours, Mine and Ours) overacts in an effort to mimic George W. Bush to the point of being ludicrous, while Willem DaFoe (Inside Man) is marooned in a bald cap and belly to make sure everyone knows he is supposed to be Vice President Dick Cheney. It’s just too much. Marcia Gay Harden (American Gun) does do a good Laura Bush, however, and her understated performance was nice in the midst of all the “acting” around her.
The real discovery in this movie is unknown Sam Golzari as Omer. He does a wonderful job creating a totally sympathetic, likeable innocent. He is a real talent, and loads of fun to watch (“get Omer-ized!”). Here’s hoping that this guy gets more work. I’d really like to see whatever he does next.
As a satire, American Dreamz is misguided and lacks edge. As a comedy, it’s just moderately funny. What is it, then? Just another missed opportunity, I guess.