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'American Dreamz' is Amusing, Not Bitter, Satire


As director of films like, In Good Company, and co-director with his brother Chris, of, About a Boy, Paul Weitz specialized in tackling life's surprises with rye humor. Now, in American Dreamz, he takes that talent to the political arena.

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

Mr. KENNETH TURAN (Film Critic, Los Angeles Times): American Dreamz doesn't want any confusion about its premise, so it spells it out on the poster in great big letters. Imagine a country, it says, where the president never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and where more people vote for a pop idol than their next president.

Yes, American Dreamz is a satire, and satire, as playwright George S. Kaufman famously said, is what closes on Saturday night. But, this film is likely to stay around a bit longer. That's because Weitz may be cynical, but he's not sour. His targets are more cultural than political. And as a studio film released in a politically divided landscape, American Dreamz knows enough not to put all its eggs in one basket.

It's true that the film has fun with Dennis Quaid, as a president with a Texas accent who hasn't read a newspaper in four years. But, he turns out to be a good guy who is intent on changing his ways.

(Soundbite of movie clip)

Mr. DENNIS QUAID: (As President Staton) There is a lot of stuff in here. It--there's a lot of interesting things.

Mr. WILLEM DAFOE: (As Chief of Staff) Yeah, there is a lot of stuff. They have to fill the pages with something, but I think, interesting, is stretching it.

Mr. QUAID: (As President Staton) Well, for instance, did you know that there are two kinds of Iraqistanis. I mean, uh, uh, actually three kinds of, uh, Iraqis.

Mr. DAFOE: (As Chief of Staff) Do you mean Sunnis, and Shiites, and Kurds?

Mr. QUAID: (As President Staton) You knew about this?

Mr. TURAN: American Dreamz barely mentions the war in Iraq, and though Willem Dafoe is made up to look exactly like Dick Cheney, the villainous character he plays is the chief of staff, not the vice president.

Most of this film's satiric jabs are directed at the show the president decides to appear on to help restore his popularity. That would be American Dreamz, a knock-off of American Idol--down to a British host played by Hugh Grant, who skewers everything that walks.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HUGH GRANT: (As Martin Tweed) You make me want to projectile vomit. I think my ears are actually bleeding.


(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of crowd applauding and cheering)

Mr. GRANT: (As Martin Tweed) No, you were wonderful. Really wonderful!

Cindy, uh, I'm afraid I have felt this way before, and it was just before I tried to kill myself. You're like a musical Ebola virus.

Unidentified Speaker: (As Cindy) I hate you.

Mr. TURAN: As on the real show, it's the contestants who are the main figures of fun. There is a young man from the Middle East--the world's most inept terrorist--who is ordered to go on the show, get to the finals, and blow up the President. Then, there is an obsessively ambitious young woman, played by Mandy Moore, who will do anything to be the winner.

While a lot of American Dreamz is hit-and-miss, it scores enough times to be amusing. Among other things, it illustrates our willingness as a society, to laugh at almost anything. And, it showcases our belief that our consumer-oriented system of values is more powerful than any competing ideology. It's meant to be a comforting thought, but somehow, it's not.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan is film critic for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

MoviesMorning Edition
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.