American Dreamz
I’m SO excited Sanjaya isn’t in this competition!

Theatrical Release Date: 04/21/2006
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Mandy Moore, Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Willem Dafoe, Marcia Gay Harden, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, John Cho, Judy Greer, Seth Meyers

Sometimes when I dream, I imagine myself in a utopian society, snuggling with a runway model on the beach and wiping my nose with thousand dollar bills.

What I don’t do is come up with a disjointed, half-satire, half-farce, all-not-very-good film like “American Dreamz”. ‘Dreams’ with a “z” because that’s edgy; kind of like when Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC to really create a meaningful dialogue with its core youth demographic.

Actually, I think I can accurately guess what the real American Idol judges would say about this film:

Randy: “It was pitchy in spots. Wasn’t your best performance, dogg.”
Paula: “Well, Mandy Moore looked great but it wasn’t the best choice of film.”
Simon: “It was like a bad karaoke performance of a good film. It’s just not good enough at this stage of the competition. There wasn’t any X-factor.”

What makes the disappointment of “American Dreamz” even more depressing is its director and rather accomplished cast. Paul Weitz wrote and directed the film, and I have come to expect much more from the man responsible for good films like “In Good Company” and “About a Boy”.

And even with the huge, crazy cast, the net result is a bland and unentertaining film.

The main problem is that the film doesn’t know what kind of film it is. Is it a satirical look at American culture, jabbing a hot poker at American Idol and the current political regime? Or is it an over-the-top portrayal of those aspects of American culture?

Hugh Grant’s character (a Simon Cowell knock-off) is at times gruff and other times charming in his brusqueness. Mandy Moore’s aspiring starlet character is 95% manipulative bitch but with just enough heart to make the character unbelievable. Dennis Quaid’s presidential portrayal is too thoughtful to be a satirical jab at Dub’ya but also buffoonish enough to be just that. And I can go on and on like that with almost every major character.

There were times that I thought Jim Abrahams and David Zucker had a hand in the movie because it was so whimsical and over-exaggerated. Mostly, I found it less than witty and almost completely unlikable.

A quarter of the way through, I wasn’t sure if maybe there were two different versions of the film but the reels had gotten mixed up in shipping. Maybe some other theatre had the same mixed-identity film, only in different sections.

There were some bright spots, though. Sam Golzari is hilarious as an Arab teen with the same superficial and wannabe dreams as every other MTV addict in the nation. And I was impressed with Tony Yalda’s take as a terrorist sleeper agent who is tasked with winning the American Dreamz contest in order to blow up the President. A role like that is very, very easy to botch but I thought he played it just right.

Those niceties aside, I mostly found myself confused by the political elements in the film and yet irresistibly drawn to Mandy Moore. “American Dreamz” teetered on the edge of getting a 2 but there’s just enough good satire and performances to nudge it up to a 3 out of 5.