(Published August 20, 2006, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
“American Dreamz” wryly satirizes hit TV show “American Idol” and the American president at the same time, a timely commentary on the current state of interactive entertainment and political spins. It offers that the two topics have fabricated images in common: contestants’ lives are altered and made more dramatic to make “good TV," while US President Staton‘s (Dennis Quaid) indecision and loss of confidence are constantly covered up by his advisers and writers. So it’s actually clever, after not reporting for work for weeks after his recent re-election, that he attempts to mend his tarnished image by appearing as guest judge on the hit “American Dreamz” star search.
As with “American Idol," the casting process of contestants in the fictional show is arduous, but it draws out all kinds of wannabes. Its host, producer, and Simon Cowell-like judge Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) wants the “freaks” in, since he believes that they’d make another lively new season. One such contestant is talented but overly ambitious, Sally Kendoo (deftly played by real pop singer Mandy Moore), who wants to be a star and not just “any idiot” who appears on TV. Another contestant, Omer (Sam Golzari), an immigrant and secretly a bumbling terrorist recruit who loves show tunes, becomes the season’s token survivor of war overseas.
“American Dreamz," despite tapping many characters from two different worlds, doesn’t lose focus on its mix of fame-seekers, clods, and opportunists. Its ensemble cast does wonders; aside from praiseworthy turns by Grant, Quaid, Moore and Golzari, characters are given depth and recognition by Willem Dafoe (the stressed-out Chief of Staff), Marcia Gay Harden (the kindly First Lady), Chris Klein (Sally’s devoted ex), Jennifer Coolidge (Sally’s mom), Seth Myers (Sally’s devious agent), and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Omer’s rich aunt).
Written, produced and directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”, “American Pie”), “American Dreamz” plods on Americans’, and now most of the world’s, fascination and obsession with helping make or break new celebrities. The process of selecting the most appealing, and not necessarily the most talented choice, is creatively underscored. It is, however, at times simplistically portrayed, and the farcical treatment of the subjects often doesn’t produce any real mirth, tension or urgency.
The televised selection process and song numbers are rather tame compared to the lurid behind-the-scenes goings-on, of course, where personality quirks are visible and funnier, and more selfish agendas proceed with abandon. The parts focusing on the president’s incompetence are among the movie’s duller and disengaging components, too. Still, the film’s legion of characters offer a fine cross-section of the world’s population that gladly takes the game show like an escapist drug, united for a short time in witnessing dreams of young hopefuls get dashed or realized. “American Dreamz” also, quite accurately, reflects the tendency of many politicians, in our world, to ride the coattails of what’s hip and happening to stay relevant. Truth is way stranger than fiction, that’s for sure.