Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Talent show final may turn out to be a bomb

American Dreamz (2006)
Starring: Hugh Grant, Sam Golzari, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Tony Yalda, Willem DeFoe, and Chris Klein
Director: Paul Weitz
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Hit talent-show 'American Dreamz' builds toward its greatest season finale ever, as a blond-haired, cute Mid-western pop-singer (Moore) squares off against a musical loving Iraqi immigrant (Golzari) in a contest that will be judged not only by regular show-host Martin Tweed (Grant), but also by the President of the United States (Quaid). Nothing is as it seems, however, as the president is growing disinterested in the superficiality of American culture and instead wants to focus on real solutions, "America's sweetheart" is actually a sociopathic bitch, and the Iraqi immigrant is a wash-out from an al-Qaeda training camp who is being forced into becoming a suicide bomber in order to assassinate the president.

"American Dreamz" is part political satire, part lampoon of American culture (as well as a lampoon of Muslim militants). When it works, it presents likeable characters who the audience is almost immediately invested, and who are very, very funny; this goes even for the "bad guys." When it's not coming together, we're forced to sit through dull stretches of film featuring unlikable characters that aren't funny at all... pathetic and reprehensible, but not at all entertaining to watch.

The storylines with President Stanton, his wife and his Chief of Staff, the storyline with Iraqi Omer, his American relatives, and the al-Qaeda sleeper-cell... both these storylines are VERY funny, and in both cases the audience finds itself rooting for Stanton and Omer to stand by what they know if right, and to reject the destructive, self-centered hypocrites who are trying to manipulate them for their own ends. These are both storylines that will piss off extremists at both ends of the political spectrum, and it is a joy to watch them unfold and ultimately intersect.

Unfortunately, the hilarity of the Stanton and Omer storylines are counterbalanced by the dreary plotline involving show host Martin Tweed and a run-of-the-mill, self-absorbed, wanna-be starlet, Sally Kendoo. Both these characters are typical Hollywood stereotypes, and they have nothing to offer beyond that. There is nothing likeable about either character--other than perhaps both characters realize they are despicable and that they're okay with that and can even bond with each other over that fact--and there's nothing for the audience to latch onto and care about with them.

If there had been a little less Martin Tweed/Sally Kendoo, it would have been a far stronger film. Both characters are essential to the over all point of the movie--and one can't have an "American Idol" spoof without a Simon Cowell-type character--but a reduced presence would have been preferable.

Despite my dislike of certain aspects of the script and the characters presented, everyone in the cast did a decent job. Golzari and Quaid definitely stole the movie from everyone else, however. Not only did they have the best lines and scenes, but each actor played his character with great humor and charm.

Although not a perfect movie, it's better than other films that attempted to present similar material and messages, such as "Man of the Year" (which fails due to a weak script and bad casting) and "Silver City" (which was just plain bad). I particularly liked the upbeat finish to the film... it's "Hollywood Ending" for all the players was refreshing on one level, while serving as a spoof on the spoof on another. It was a very amusing close to a mostly amusing film.

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