ARTS

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April 28, 2006

Sweet Dreamz are made of these

At first, it’s hard to know what to do with a movie in which two of the lead characters are despicable, one is a moron, and the fourth is a terrorist. But once you get into American Dreamz, you realize you just have to laugh. And laugh and laugh. Director Paul Weitz’s new comedy, which opened in theaters last Friday, is not as dirty as his 1999 film American Pie or as dark as 2002’s About A Boy, but it draws from the same odd humor and the same casting pool—Jennifer Coolidge from the former and Hugh Grant from the latter, to name just two—and comes up with something else entirely.

American Dreamz spans a season of America’s favorite reality show of the same name. The show’s host and judge, Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), is self-centered, self-serving, and loved all over America. In an effort to shake things up on the newest season of the show, Tweed brings in an Arab and an Orthodox Jew to sing alongside more traditional contestants, like Ohioan Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore).

The Arab that Tweed’s staff picks is Omer “the Omerizer” Obeidi (Sam Golzari), who was trained as a terrorist. But the incompetent, show tune–loving Iraqi has now been assigned to stay with his cousins in Orange County in an effort to get him out of the way. While home alone, he gets mistaken for his flamboyant, American Dreamz contestant–wannabe cousin, Iqbal (Tony Yalda), and picked to be on the show.

In the meantime, United States President Stanton (Dennis Quaid)—who, with his Southern accent and inability to finish sentences, might remind you of another U.S. president—has had a post-reelection breakdown and refuses to leave his room. As part of a publicity blitz to get the President’s popularity back on top, his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) insists Stanton be a guest judge on the season finale of American Dreamz.

After seeing the trailer a couple of times and the posters that read, “Imagine a country where the president never reads the newspaper, where America goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and where more people vote for a pop idol than their next president,” I came into the theater with extremely low expectations. The trailer screamed “cheesy”; the poster, “heavy-handed.” Instead, it is completely irreverent and a whole lot of fun.

This isn’t just another movie that is trying to shove down our throats the ideas that our government is broken and we’re being corrupted by television (although it does remind us that it is and that we are). The movie is just funny. It pairs some really great lines with adept physical humor. Even funnier than the line, “They don’t call me the torturer because I don’t like to torture people”—spoken by terrorist Ali Aziz (Jay Harik) when Omer questions his own ability to make it to American Dreamz’s final round—is Aziz’s henchmen, who sit next to him in the hot tub and slather their faces with sunscreen for the entire scene.

Most importantly, the film pulls in amusing performances from talented performers. One such performance is from ex–pop idol Moore. Even this dedicated Moore fan assumed her Kendoo character’s name would say it all (can do!). I braced myself for the pop-y, pouty Moore of The Princess Diaries (as Princess Mia’s nemesis Lana) and got the fame-oriented, egotistical (is there a word that’s stronger than egotistical?), and possibly disturbed Kendoo, reiterating the talent we saw from Moore in 2004’s Saved!. Moore’s music and films used to be my guilty pleasure, but yet another quality role has shown that I can stop feeling guilty.

In addition, Grant proves yet again that he doesn’t have to play a nice guy. Quaid’s perfected blank stare renders him almost unrecognizable. Coolidge, as Kendoo’s equally crazy mother, reminds us that she is never not funny. In this large, impressive cast, this list could go on for quite awhile. Instead, I will just mention two more: Omer’s American cousins, Iqbal and Shazzy (Noureen DeWulf), get a laugh at every line and every look, and they manage to portray characters who are totally spoiled and completely likeable. For both, this is the first role in a feature film; I suspect it won’t be the last.

American Dreamz is not without flaw. Some might even say that—due to lack of character development or narrative cohesion—it doesn’t make much sense, or that it doesn’t have a positive message. On the other hand, if you don’t take it too seriously, American Dreamz is a fun time. If nothing else, know that it’s worth the two hours just to see Omer’s rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. If you’re looking for something that is not too hot and not too cold, this ensemble piece is just right.