American Dreamz

American Dreamz

****

Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

And tonight, Matthew, Hugh Grant IS ... Simon Cowell. With just a touch of Ryan Seacrest.

If you know who the latter is, you're right in the target market for American Dreamz, a smarter-than-it-seems satire which takes on American Idol, the superbly addictive talent show, hosted by the vacuous Seacrest and judged by the caustic Cowell and two make-weight morons.

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If that seems like a redundant target, or one that's as old-hat as a parody of The Weakest Link, be reassured, for Dreamz has the barest minimum of "Your singing made me want to projectile vomit" comments and, instead, a surprisingly focus on the Iraq war, a stage-managed Presidency and the cynicism of modern stardom. It's odd - but entertaining.

Grant, who's always best playing a bastard rather than a bumbling "nice guy," is Martin Tweed, the self-loathing host, producer and judge of the US top reality TV show. Bored with the bland wannabes, he orders his team to discover new contestants whose human interest stories are more important than their talent - in other words, he declares, "Bring me freaks."

Among them is Omer (Sam Golzari), an adorable recently arrived Iraqi immigrant, who has been chucked out of suicide bomber training camp for his love of Broadway tunes. Tasteless? Well, yes, the politics don't bear too much thinking about but Golzari's wide-eyed charm, along with some great comedic performances from his sleeper cell comrades, carry it through.

There's also Sally (popstrel Mandy Moore), all perky blonde ambition with karaoke standard voice, who's prepared to do anything to win, including taking back her thicko ex-boyfriend (American Pie's Chris Klein). He's managed to get himself injured on his first day in Iraq after joining the army in lovelorn pique, and who therefore counts as an American Hero, which is great human interest. When Sally and Tweed meet, there's an instant attraction of like-minded souls, as they discover the refreshing appeal of being able to reveal their true hard-bitten selves.

Omer and Sally, along with a bunch of other weirdoes, including an Israeli cantor who sings hip-hop, get through the early stages to the contest itself. Meanwhile President Bush - er, Staton (Dennis Quaid, in full dopey mode) - is having a personal crisis, caused by deciding to actually read the newspapers instead of just relying on the heavily slanted reports from his staff. To save his image, his Machiavellian chief of staff (Willem Dafoe, playing Dick Cheney) arranges for him to appear as guest judge on the American Dreamz final - a suitably dumbed down venue for his dumb brand of politics. The stage is set for Omer's erstwhile terrorist buddies to redraft him for the cause ... if only his bizarre performances can get him to the final.

Daft the plot may be, but all concerned do a splendid job, including reliable character actors like Marcia Gay Harden, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jennifer Coolidge. The music, by Stephen Trask, who wrote Hedwig And The Angry Inch, is spot on, with a suitably terrible saccharin song for the contest winner and well-chosen cover versions (if anything, the American Dreamz contestants are too good). American Idol fans will spot a few deliberate in-jokes, but there's enough other stuff going on for those who don't to follow it.

The film is uneven, a strange mix of Team America: World Police, Bulworth and A Mighty Wind, but it's a pleasure to see a comedy which, without having any great pretensions, has a go at satirising the crossover between entertainment as political distraction and politics as entertainment.

As Simon Cowell might say, "It was weird ... but I liked it."

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2006
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Satire of American Idol, George Dubya and suicide bombers.
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Angus Wolfe Murray *1/2

Director: Paul Weitz

Writer: Paul Weitz

Starring: Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Golzari, Tony Yalda, Seth Meyers, Shohreh Aghdashloo

Year: 2006

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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