Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
Comedy, Drama, Satire
1 hr. 47 min.
Year of Release:
April 21, 2006 (wide)
“Everyone’s gotta have…”
Satire, 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
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.