“Are Americans to blame for America?” Omer asks his friend in the weirdly funny film “American Dreamz” (Universal Pictures). This somewhat stimulating question is one of the many that remains unanswered in Paul Weitz’s (“About a Boy,” “American Pie”) new comedy. Oh yeah, and Omer is a potential terrorist who’s having a moral dilemma before he’s about to perform on an “American Idol” knockoff in front of the president of the United States.
If this sounds strange to you, it only gets weirder. The film centers on characters all across the globe united by one thing: the fictional show “American Dreamz.” Hugh Grant dons seedy outfits and embraces his pompous side once again, playing the host of the show Martin Tweed, an amalgam of Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest. He sets out to find edgy new contestants and comes up with Omer (Sam Golzari), a young boy Tweed doesn’t realize has been chosen to carry out a terrorist plot, and Sally (Mandy Moore), a small-town girl with big Hollywood dreams. Rounding out the cast is Dennis Quaid as President Staton, an obvious caricature of President Bush, who agrees to be a guest judge on the show to boost his approval ratings.
The movie is well-cast, with the actors illustrating the nuances and stereotypes of their respective characters. Mandy Moore is surprisingly good as the conniving social climber who steps on everyone to get what she wants. Hugh Grant replays the womanizing, sleazy role he perfected in “About a Boy,” and Dennis Quaid captures the bumbling inarticulateness of our current commander-in-chief. Sam Golzari steals the movie as the terrorist with a heart of gold who sings show tunes in his free time.
The film does a good job at depicting the global obsession with fame. It’s not just the Americans; even the terrorists have TiVo. However, while the movie provides for funny social commentary on America’s commercial culture, the tone becomes muddled because of its goofiness. The combination of politics and pop culture is also a little off, as President Staton’s storyline is funny but doesn’t always fit in.
During a question-and-answer session after the D.C. premiere of the film, Paul Weitz explained, “I came up with the idea for the film when I realized the disconnect between worrying about terrorism in the morning and . (American Idol) by the evening . I wanted to explore the American idea of everyone having a dream, an idea that often makes it hard for people to deal with reality.”
He went on to say that “American Idol” is in many ways the “purest form of democracy.” Weitz wanted the film to present characters the audience would ultimately care about, and reflect his cynical but ultimately optimistic view of humanity.
So how do you describe a movie like “American Dreamz”? Satire isn’t the right word, it’s not edgy enough. The movie becomes silly and over-the-top with its situations and doesn’t really dig deeper beneath a culture obsessed with fame. It toes the line without crossing it, although leaves you wondering if it would have been more rewarding a movie had Weitz pushed it a little further. Perhaps because he was determined to present likeable characters and an ultimately optimistic view, the film turns out as a more benign comedy rather than providing real social commentary. Either way, “American Dreamz” is packed with just enough humor, originality and good performances to make it an enjoyable film.
“American Dreamz” opens nationwide on April 21.