'American Dreamz': Wake Up!

False "Idol": Mandy Moore plays a singer who competes on a popular television talent show in "American Dreamz." (Photos By Glen Wilson -- Universal Studios)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush, Cheney, "American Idol" and the culture of terrorism -- these are the whipping boys of "American Dreamz," a tediously facile satire from filmmaker Paul Weitz, who co-directed the wonderful "About a Boy" in 2002. This time, however, Weitz's comic instincts fail him, as he takes the director's seat without brother Chris Weitz. Even his resummoning of "About a Boy" star Hugh Grant can't save the movie.

The sophomorically liberal agenda is unmistakable from the get-go. Conservative President Staton (Dennis Quaid) has just been reelected. Feeling triumphant, he decides to do something entirely new: Read the newspaper! This and more reading convince him that the world isn't black and white, as he thought, but "gray-seeming."

When the president refuses to appear in public so he can spend more time thinking, his Svengalian Vice President Sutter (Willem Dafoe) takes decisive action to drive those flagging poll numbers back up. He finagles a guest spot for the president as a judge on "American Dreamz," the country's most popular TV amateur talent show, run by a snotty Brit, Martin Tweed (Grant). As always, the veep will transmit witty, presidential things to say into Staton's secret ear monitor.

To cut what feels like hours of exposition short, the president finds himself judging two singer-finalists -- manipulative Midwestern sweetheart Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and Omer (Sam Golzari), an Arabic man (his nationality isn't clear) who loves show tunes but is also a member of a terrorist cell.

Quaid's halting-doofus shtick doesn't even reach one-dimensional. And, as Sutter, Dafoe's gimlet eyes, bald crown and shiny forehead suggest a combination of Cheney and nuclear power plant owner Montgomery Burns from "The Simpsons." He's so mean-spiritedly drawn, he's almost painful to watch. Grant's spin on "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell is blunt, obvious and -- worse -- never funny. Not even "Idol" softie-judge Paula Abdul would find kind words for his performance.

There is one positive to take away from this movie, however: As Omer's cousin Iqbal, Lebanese actor Tony Yalda is a scream. A fey and fussy nerd with no singing talent and some bizarre dance moves, he dreams of appearing on Martin's show. He gyrates in herky-jerky fashion in his basement room, with its nightclubby decor and revolving disco ball. ("Do I look like I need pity?" he says to Omer, at one point. ) It's all too telling that he never makes Martin's show. After all, we wouldn't want someone funny upstaging the others.

American Dreamz (107 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity and sexual references.

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