Movie Review

American Dreamz

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults, Teens
Genre:
Comedy, Drama, Satire
Length:
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
2006
USA Release:
April 21, 2006 (wide)
Featuring: Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Chris Klein, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe
Director: Paul Weitz
Producer: Chris Weitz, Kerry Kohansky, Paul Weitz
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Everyone’s gotta have…”

Copyrighted, Universal PicturesSatire, be it political or any other kind, can be a guilty pleasure when done right. You get the opportunity to laugh at something that in most everyday settings wouldn’t be deemed funny, or even appropriate to joke about. We expect good satires to be bold, daring, controversial, and often very one-sided. Movies like “Wag the Dog,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and to a lesser extent “Primary Colors” may not have been extraordinarily accurate, but they were at times undeniably funny with some of the cheap shots they took at powerful political figures. In addition, the incredible popularity of “Saturday Night Live” and their political sketches have taken what was once taboo (publicly mocking a President) and made it commonplace today.

Yet, when satire is done wrong, it is done woefully wrong. When it’s not funny, when it doesn’t make us laugh at people we have respect for, it comes across as angry and mean-spirited, with no real intent other than to bash the selected target into the ground. Sadly, and much to my surprise, “American Dreamz” falls into this category. It takes aim at two current American newsmakers, George W. Bush and “American Idol”.

Hugh Grant stars as Martin Tweed, the host of the most popular show in the world, “American Dreamz.” Dreamz is beginning a new season, and Tweed and his employees are on the prowl looking for new musical talent to exploit, and new dreams to smash. He is looking for “freaks,” people out of the norm to keep his formulaic show fresh and keep the ratings up. To do this, he even specifically seeks out Jewish and Arabic singers as a way to spice things up. Along the way, they find Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), a self-absorbed Ohio girl seeking stardom who reminds Tweed of himself. She is cold, arrogant, egocentric, and will use anything, and anyone to get what she wants. They also find Omer (Sam Golzari), a bumbling terrorist wannabe from the Middle East who winds up living with his Aunt and Uncle in Southern California, where the Dreamz crew discovers him while he is singing in a basement-turned-disco.

Meanwhile, President Joe Staton (Dennis Quaid), fresh off his second election victory seems to be “going bonkers.” He has holed himself up in his White House bedroom, sitting in bed in his pajamas reading newspapers from around the world. Reading is apparently a highly rare occurrence for the slow-witted President, and it immediately alarms his wife (Marcia Gay Harden) and his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) who try to coax out of the President just what it is that has caused him to snap. The American public begins to ask questions regarding the President when three weeks have passed since the election and there is no public sign of him. Worried that the President’s ratings are falling, his chief of staff makes a deal with the producers of “American Dreamz” to get the President to appear on the final episode of the show as a guest judge. Unbeknownst to them, the Arabic contestant Omer is planning on killing the President on national television by blowing himself and the President up when they meet on the final episode.

It is no secret to anyone watching the film that President Staton is based on our current President Bush. Willem Dafoe is made up to look a little like Dick Cheney and Marcia Gay Harden could pass for First Lady Laura Bush. The film takes numerous shots at Bush’s simplicity, intelligence, motivations, and religious beliefs. And, to an extent, those things aren’t necessarily bad things to be joking about when done the right way. However, nothing is funny. Not one bit of it. As I sat in the theater, all I could help thinking was that if this were a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, it would never have made the air, because it simply wasn’t humorous. The writers at “SNL” could have come up with a three minute sketch far funnier than however long “American Dreamz” spent jabbing at the President.

What made things worse, there were a few scenes that mock Bush’s Christian faith in a condescending way. In one scene in particular, we hear a rousing, sarcastic musical rendition of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” while Staton is being consoled by his wife.

As for the film’s content, there is some language to speak of. One F-word muttered in the first few minutes is what most likely garnered the PG-13 rating. Some other profanity is used through the film, but to be honest, not a whole lot. There are some sexual jokes, and implied sexual scenes, as well as some slightly revealing outfits worn by the women of the film. For this type of film, the content is rather mild, but parents should take caution as always when deciding whether or not this film is right for their children.

With the marvelous cast this film possesses (Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Marcia Gay Harden. Willem Dafoe, Mandy Moore, Chris Klein, Judy Greer, and “House of Sand and Fog”’s Shohreh Aghdashloo) it is stunning how badly they all misfire. None of them are particularly very good, and the material does little job of helping them out. To top it off, the film seems forced, as if one night the writers decided they had to make a Bush bashing satire and spent ten minutes writing the script so they could start filming right away. Little effort seems to have been exerted, and it painfully shows in the dreadful, unfunny script. I imagine a very funny film could be made poking fun at both Bush and “American Idol,” but be warned, this is most definitely not it.

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate


Viewer Comments
Positive
Positive—This was a great comedy; if I wasn’t laughing I was smiling. If it wasn’t for the one use of the F bomb at the very beginning, this could have been PG. If you can take it only once I think you will enjoy this film; there is no other language throughout. I think this movie is sweet, and funny, and just gold old fashioned good-hearted; I recommend this for anyone 10 and up.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Ken Walsh, age 39
Positive—What a treat, boy did me and my wife enjoy this film. I am a youth pastor at my church and my wife and I took the youth group to this and they were laughing and howling along with the adults, this film hits all demographics. There is one use of the F word at the start, but that is all. …a great flick.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—James Mathews, age 32
Positive—My husband and I loved this movie! It was fun, filled with laughs, and surprisingly on-target in many areas. And I liked the way it portrayed Mr. Bush. It didn’t make him out as an evil warmonger, but as one who had been misled, and was willing to look in a new direction to fix what had gone wrong. There is a lot of soul-searching in this film, and personal growth. “American Dreamz” makes a point about the price to be paid for shallow living, and will lead many to take a fresh look at a lot that is going on around them! I could have done without the “f-bomb” and a couple of other things, but it was a lot cleaner than many of the movies out recently. The acting was very good, and there was an all-star cast that did a great job all around!
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Faith, age 39
Negative
Negative—This is simply not entertaining. It stereotypes everyone, it is not witty, it is not smart and it takes cheap shots at everyone depicted, from the character that’s supposed to be a Simon Cowell type to the President of the United States. I thought that it was going to focus more on the cultural phenomenon of more Americans voting for a reality TV show contestant than their elected officials. It did not, and was often very mean-spirited. “American Dreamz” was not in the least bit uplifting, so I would not recommend it for those of us who believe 'loving our neighbors as ourselves!'
My Ratings: Average / 1
—Dee, age 56
Negative—If you need a good nap, this would be the movie to see. In all honesty, I did not make it all the way through it because it was extremely boring. I thought it was supposed to be funny. I can appreciate making fun of a president or a TV show, if it is done tastefully and humorously, but neither of these words apply to this movie.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 1
—Judy Noe, age 51
Negative—This is a terrific movie for people who want to make fun of our country, war in Iraq, and Christian faith. It tried to make fun of all three but failed miserably for people who take their faith seriously, and who don’t share this point of view. In the first 15 minutes Hugh Grant used the F-word and referred to masturbation without flinching. In addition, other actors made comments that sarcastically referred to Jesus, which I found more offensive than the crude remarks. It was as tasteless as a bad Eddie Murphy, or Richard Pryor, movie. I left a blank-looking crowd trying to figure out why they paid for such a simple minded and irresponsible movie.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
—Greg Bright, age 64
NegativeDennis Quaid and Hugh Grant were the main reason I went to this movie—and that it looked like a light-hearted movie. I like shows that make me feel good when I leave, this one did not. Hugh Grant using the F-word at the very first was bad enough. Maybe it was just meant to be humorous, but I took offense to the disrespect shown to President Bush. I resent the movie for making my president, my country, and my Christian faith look stupid.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3
—Darlene McDaniel, age 58
Negative—If you think this movie is anything about “American Idol” or parody thereof… IT IS NOT!! The message is loud and clear in this film and apparent OPINION by the director, producers, writers, etc.…, which is 'We think our president is a bumbling idiot and hate the fact that he has our troops in Iraq fighting a war that will never, never, never be resolved!!' In fact, this is one of the lines by Dennis Quaid, 'The war will never, never, never be resolved'. The whole concept of putting persons in this film as if they are trying out for a show “sort like” AI, was just a disguise to send someone’s strong dislike for our USA leaders. Film should be changed to “American Nightmare.” To take advantage of AI’s popularity to lure viewers in to see this most “anti american” movie, is just shameful!!
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 1
—Southern Viewer, age 45
Negative—there was a kegger and the children were not a bit respectful
My Ratings: Offensive / 3
—Jack Thornton, age 49
Negative—Just don’t waste your money on this extremely boring movie. This is the first time I have ever come close to sleeping through a movie. The humour never quite makes it and I thought these people should have a bit more respect for their own president. The at times subtle and at other times not so subtle mocking of Christianity was enough to turn me off and the sheer lack of storyline and poor acting proved it to be a tedious movie where I was hanging out for the end. To put it simply this is the worst movie I have ever seen and is boring and uninteresting from start to finish.
My Ratings: Offensive / 1
—Louise, age 22
Comments from young people
Negative—“American Dreamz” is NOT the American dream! I warn all audiences to avoid this box office flop! I saw it as the most vile film I’ve ever watched this year or any other year of my life. It was revolting the way Hugh Grant (infamous in many of his roles as a womanizer) cussed profanely used women for his own sensual pleasures, including the main character Mandy Moore in her dressing room. Both of them say nothing bad of the experience or how IMMORALLY and UNGODLY it was to do it. The movie begins badly and ends up down the drain of the literal and secretarial toilet.

Not only does it slam down on morals, but it slaps the patriotism of our country, stabbing the heart of it with its lightheartedness towards terrorism (one of the characters, Omar, is forced into the service of bombing himself) and wrongly parallels the president Dennis Quaid plays to our own, giving people the wrong impressions that our own President Bush is just a puppet and a moron who can’t do anything without someone to tell him exactly what to say. There are also the uncomfortable references to homosexuality, such as with Omar’s cousin and with the father of Mandy Moore. I should’ve walked out, but I didn’t, and I now I’m scrubbing myself of the filth I endured. Please abide this warning. If you don’t, it’s you’re own fault that you get doused in that waste of a film.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 5
—The Writer, age 16

Negative—In all honesty, this has to be the WORST movie I have EVER seen. The story line was pathetic, the acting was ridiculous, everything in this movie was dumb. I was disappointed, because I was expecting a clean, comedy. I found out this movie was dull, and disappointing.
My Ratings: Average / 1
—Katie, age 17
Negative—…the movie was horrible. The plot was bad, it wa poorly acted, and it was just a spoof off of “American Idol”. One of the things that bothered me most was the message, that it was okay to lie to your boyfriend/girlfriend, it’s okay to have an affair, it’s okay to be sucked up in yourself and not care about anyone else, and it encouraged homosexuallity. The movie had no point, and some guy ended up getting blown up in the end. Don’t waste your money on it.
My Ratings: Offensive / 1½
—Joe, age 14