Mandy Moore is hot. I mean scorching hot. Not only does she have a decent taste in roles (Saved!, "Entourage"), but she is gorgeous, especially when she plays a devious, slutty and manipulative singer trying to win a national tournament a la "American Idol". Throw in a terrorist, an idiot President and a sleazy television host and you've got a great package... Unfortunately director Paul Weitz never gets everything to click.
For starters, the tagline is great: "Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President." I mean, how could someone come up with such a zany, outlandish and silly premise such as this? How can we believe Americans living in such a world?
Now, on with the review... Weitz, director of such films as American Pie, In Good Company and About a Boy (we'll forgive him for Down to Earth), has assembled a great cast, including Hugh Grant, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Quaid, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Golzari (I mention him only because he's one of the main characters) and of course, Ms. Moore. Moore plays a young woman named Sally who gets selected to compete on a national singing competition called "American Dreamz," and who promptly dumps her quasi-idiot boyfriend, William Williams (Klein). In distress, William joins the military and goes to Iraq, where he is shot in the arm and forced to return home. Sally gets back together with him because dating an injured soldier could improve her chances of winning. A mutual attractive with the host and judge of the show, played by Grant, also helps. Meanwhile, across the country, the Chief of Staff (Dafoe) realizes that something has happened to the President of the United States (Quaid), who really is an idiot. In an act of desperation to win back support, the President is enlisted as a guest judge on the final episode of "American Dreamz." And in Los Angeles, a young and idealistic terrorist (Golzari) accidentally gets chosen to go on the telivision show - and his terrorist buddies instruct him to make it to the final round where he can then detonate himself next to the President. Fun stuff.
Despite all of that, American Dreamz never really takes off. There are some funny parts and the movie is moderately funny, but not funny enough. The film has so much potential, and it just doesn't live up to it. The jokes are too subdued and too satirical for their own good, and many miss the mark. Grant is pretty much wasted and certainly doesn't compare to his real-life counterpart, Simon Cowell ("American Idol"). Quaid is pretty funny, but Weitz seemed uncertain how to portray the character appropriately. Moore and Golzari, understandably, are the best, but even they aren't very commanding in the leads. The best role probably goes to Tony Yalda, who plays Golzari's flaming cousin. He is hilarious in just about every scene.
American Dreamz is not a disaster by any means (critically, at least), but the movie never completely takes flight. I have to wonder if instead of going for light comedy this movie would have been more suited for a darker approach. They could have done a lot more with Moore's character, and certainly would have appealed to a more adult audience, which would make sense for a political satire. Recommended as a rental, but only if there aren't any other options.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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