Could the American dream possibly be any more screwed up? That’s the question posed by American Dreamz and it has one heck of an answer for you. Rather than showing a genuine reflection of our current affairs it sticks the country’s collective personality in front of a fun house mirror. With each twist and turn the flaws are magnified and distorted with hilarious results.
“American Dreamz” is the number one television show in the nation. More people vote for their favorite pop-star wannabe than for their president, which some folks suspect is how the current commander in chief, President Staton, landed back in office for a second term. Any of that sound familiar? Meanwhile, a young Arabic terrorist named Omer has dreams of becoming a Broadway star. He finds himself sent to a cushy existence with his rich American relatives where he is to wait for instructions from his sleeper cell commander.
Omer inadvertently lands a spot on “American Dreamz” where he quickly becomes a favorite contender. When his cell commander learns that the President of the United States will be appearing as a guest judge, he instructs Omer to win his way to the final round and assassinate the leader of the free world in what will surely be the most glorious suicide bombing ever. Omer’s main competition is Sally Kendoo, a soulless white trash karaoke singer who has won over the libido of the show’s creator Martin Tweed. All Tweed wants is someone as soulless as he is with whom he can share his empire. Everyone has their own misshapen American dream and when those dreams collide the sparks are brighter than a 4th of July celebration.
Writer and director Paul Weitz has crafted a comedy that entertains without getting out of control. He doesn’t have anything to tell us we don’t already know or feel, so he restates the obvious with a sly smile and a wink in the hopes we’ll catch a new glimpse of how bizarre our pop culture reality has gotten. He plays a witty balancing act, sticking to the non-PC parody side of comedy without dipping too deeply into the kinds of satire that would put a lot people off. The movie’s bark is worse than its bite, but it’s more like the sound of a laughing hyena.
The gut-busting moments of hilarity are sparse but there’s a steady stream of jokes, bits and over the top plot lines to keep the comedy moving along. I felt as though I was watching a Mel Brooks movie baked into an American Pie with a little bit of food for thought on the side. Not too much thinking though, lest we be left with socio-political heartburn.
The cast slip into their warped stereotype and caricature roles with ease. Dennis Quaid once again exhibits his flexibility as the slightly dim but good spirited President Staton. Going beyond simply mimicking our current head of state, he could be any one of a number of government officials who get their info through filtered sound bytes instead of looking at the reality the rest of us have to live in. Hugh Grant does his best to not be Hugh Grant but his turn as Martin Tweed feels like you’re watching the evil twin of all the nice guys he’s ever played. The real star of the show is relative newcomer Sam Golzari. His turn as Omer is pure understated comic genius. How else can I describe someone who can do the perfect awkward moon walk in a Michael Jackson outfit while singing show tunes in an Arabic accent, all with a straight face?
The down side is that in ten years American Dreamz will have lost all its relevancy. It’s attached at the hip with our current reality and will no doubt quickly fade into cinematic oblivion. For now it’s an entertaining movie that’s not afraid to call things like it sees them and offers us a chance to laugh at some of our collective national absurdities. You won’t realize how far under your skin it’s gotten until you catch yourself singing the theme song on your way out of the theater.
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