At first, its 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 Weitzs new comedy, which opened in theaters last Friday, is not as dirty as his 1999 film American Pie or as dark as 2002s About A Boy, but it draws from the same odd humor and the same casting poolJennifer Coolidge from the former and Hugh Grant from the latter, to name just twoand comes up with something else entirely.
American Dreamz spans a season of Americas favorite reality show of the same name. The shows 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 Tweeds staff picks is Omer the Omerizer Obeidi (Sam Golzari), who was trained as a terrorist. But the incompetent, show tuneloving 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 contestantwannabe 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. presidenthas had a post-reelection breakdown and refuses to leave his room. As part of a publicity blitz to get the Presidents 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 isnt just another movie that is trying to shove down our throats the ideas that our government is broken and were 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 dont call me the torturer because I dont like to torture peoplespoken by terrorist Ali Aziz (Jay Harik) when Omer questions his own ability to make it to American Dreamzs final roundis Azizs 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 expop idol Moore. Even this dedicated Moore fan assumed her Kendoo characters name would say it all (can do!). I braced myself for the pop-y, pouty Moore of The Princess Diaries (as Princess Mias nemesis Lana) and got the fame-oriented, egotistical (is there a word thats stronger than egotistical?), and possibly disturbed Kendoo, reiterating the talent we saw from Moore in 2004s Saved!. Moores 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 doesnt have to play a nice guy. Quaids perfected blank stare renders him almost unrecognizable. Coolidge, as Kendoos 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: Omers 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 wont be the last.
American Dreamz is not without flaw. Some might even say thatdue to lack of character development or narrative cohesionit doesnt make much sense, or that it doesnt have a positive message. On the other hand, if you dont take it too seriously, American Dreamz is a fun time. If nothing else, know that its worth the two hours just to see Omers rendition of The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. If youre looking for something that is not too hot and not too cold, this ensemble piece is just right.