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Friday, June 1, 2007

Hazy "Dreamz"

I caught American Dreamz on cable a few nights ago. This Chris "About a Boy" Weitz directed film wants badly to be a modern-day Dr. Strangelove but ends up lacking in the conviction of it's own cynicism. Still for about 45 minutes it seems like it might pull off the satire it aspires to.

The premise is that an American Idol type show, American Dreamz, is going to close out their season by having a befuddled unpopular bellicose American President (Dennis Quiad doing his best syntax-mangled Bush) come on as a guest judge. Mandy Moore plays the Tracy Flickesqe ingenue who is smart enough to play sweet, Chris Klein is her simpleminded wounded Iraq vet BF, and Hugh Grant sets the smarm meter to 10 as a Simon Cowell love-to-hate-him type judge. Did I mention the sweet middle eastern contestant (Sam Golzari) who is part of a terrorist cell but just wants to sing and dance? Or Willem Dafoe in a bald cap as a leering svengali a la Dick Cheney? All of this sounds like a trainwreck but the first half sets all of these characters up deftly and skewers ripe targets like reality TV (Moore's multiple takes of "reality" are great), the Iraq war (the President finds out there are Sunni's and Shi'a's) and fundamentalism of all stripes (Mrs. President and the Veep re-assuring the President that he is divinely blessed.)

Where Weitz goes wrong is in giving his characters story arcs with redemptive conclusions that defang the satire and suck the air out of the film. Does anyone really believe that if only President Bush (as that is clearly who the film's fictional President Staton is) read a newspaper, he'd get out from the grip of puppetmaster Cheney and turn into a Good Guy? The last act showdown between Klein's wounded-in-more-ways-than-one vet and Grant's snide MC feels contived and pointless.

The film is on firmer ground when it's presenting us with the burgeoning relationship between Grant and and fellow reptile Moore who are drawn magnetically to each others guilessness and manipulativeness, or showing us a tent in a terrorist encampment presumably in Iraq where all the Queda forces are gathered around the TV to watch the fictional reality show. Moments like those approach the level of great cold war satires like The President's Analyst and Dreamz may well become a cult classic just for taking the chances it does. As it is though, it's a mixed bag of too much Hollywood "let's give 'em someone to root for" countered by some very funny black humor.

Overall this gets three out of five Strangeloves:

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