Hugh Grant as Martin Tweed
Dennis Quaid as President Staton
Mandy Moore as Sally Kendoo
Sam Golzari as Omer
Marcia Gay Harden as First Lady Staton
Willem Dafoe as Vice President Sutter
Tony Yalda as Iqbal Riza
Chris Klein as William Williams
Jennifer Coolidge as Martha Kendoo
Judy Greer as Accordo
John Cho as Ittles
Shohreh Aghdashloo as Nazneen Riza
Noureen DeWulf as Shazzy
Adam Busch as Sholem Glickstein
Beau Holden as Uncle Fitz
Directed by Paul Weitz
The obvious homogenized sociopolitical humor of this political comedy is below Paul Weitz, just as it’s below most of the talented cast he was able to pull together to make it. Disappointing, to say the least.
The approval rating of the President (Dennis Quaid) is down, and he’s having a mild breakdown as he starts reading newspapers and learning the truth, so the vice president (Willem Dafoe) gets him a spot as a judge on the reality television show “American Dreamz.” The show’s slimy host Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) will use any trick to boost and keep his high ratings, including bringing on an Arab contestant (Sam Golzari), who has been assigned to blow up the President during his appearance.
It’s so easy to make fun of the President these days. All you have to do is put on a Texan accent and act dumb, and that’s instant comedy to the liberals unhappy with the current President’s decision. Then again, he can’t be that dumb, because he won reelection, didn’t he?
That being as it may, the new political comedy by Paul Weitz, the man responsible for everything from “American Pie” to “About a Boy,” jumps on the left wing bandwagon a little too late to be new or innovative. Weitz’s gimmicky plot device has Dennis Quaid–returning for his second go-round with Weitz after “In Good Company” playing the President– trying to save his standing by appearing as a judge on “American Idol” sorry “American Dreamz.” The set-up is composed of four concurrent stories: that of the President trying to get over his breakdown, that of the incompetent Muslim terrorist named Omer (newcomer Sam Golzari), sent to infiltrate the enemy in America, the travails of Martin Tweed, the nasty producer and host of “American Dreamz,” and the journey of smalltown girl Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), ready to sell her soul for fame. Once he arrives in Hollywood to live with his uncle, Omer, an avid fan of showtunes, is helped by his cousin Iqbal to get on the hit reality show “American Dreamz,” at the same time that Tweed decides that getting an Arab contestant might stir things up.
If the movie sounds like a convoluted mess, then welcome to the world of trying to make the most out of ill-conceived concepts. Honestly, I have no idea how a movie like this would have been greenlit if Weitz didn’t have so much credibility with Universal for the “American Pie” series or his other indie-flavored mainstream films.
Making fun of “American Idol” is just as easy as making fun of the President, but both have been fodder for humor long before Weitz’s decided to give his homogenized take on it. Essentially, we get a bunch of obvious AI clones with Omer and a ridiculous Jewish rapper facing off against the talented but overly-competitive Sally Kendoo. For the most part, none of it is particularly entertaining or funny.
For Weitz, it’s a real cop-out. Instead of going for the jugular with hard biting humor, “American Dreamz” goes for obvious jokes that might only appeal to those who haven’t read a newspaper editorial in four years. There’s nothing that an intelligent, well-educated person won’t have already seen done better elsewhere, and because of this, the whole movie comes across like a bad “Saturday Night Live” political sketch dragged on for way too long. It certainly doesn’t help to have SNL cast member Seth Meyers playing Sally Kendoo’s agent, because it just makes the comparisons more apparent.
At least Weitz has a terrific cast, but for the most part, comedy isn’t their forte, and except maybe for Chris Klein, this type of dumbed-down humor is below them. Hugh Grant, who’s usually a great straight man, turns the “prick mode” into overdrive with his obvious impression of Simon Cowell, and without his normal charm or personality, there’s no reason to care about what happens to him. Likewise, Quaid acts dumb and clueless in order to ape our President, and though it’s fairly spot-on, it’s not the type of strong character we’re used to seeing him play.
Even Mandy Moore played a better b*tch in “Saved,” and all she’s doing here is trying to take that same character to another extreme, while strong actresses like Marcia Gay Harden and Judy Greer are sorely underused. For the most part, none of the cast seems to be trying very hard, and it’s impossible to feel any empathy with this motley group of irredeemable idiots and *ssholes. It’s a lot of great talent being wasted, basically.
There are a few saving graces, and as usual, Willem Dafoe is one of them, doing a decent impression of Karl Rove, while looking a lot more like Dick Cheney with a distinctive lack of hair. Weitz’s find for the film is Tony Yalda, who offers some of the movie’s few laughs as Omer’s presumably gay cousin Iqbal, played so over-the-top that he becomes one of those “American Idol” jokes knocked out in the first round.
If that weren’t bad enough, the music is schmaltzy with none of the hip and happening edge that Weitz has brought to previous films. Is this really the same guy who got the elusive Badly Drawn Boy to write an album full of tunes for “About a Boy”? It’s surprising to see a hip musician like Stephen Trask come up with something so cheesy, but I guess it fits the tone of the piece.
At least, everything sort of comes together at the end as Sally’s military boyfriend William Williams, Chris Klein’s character, appears on the show ready to propose to her, culminating in a disastrous turn of events that throws a monkey wrench into Omer’s terrorist plans. By that time, you really just don’t care and just want it to be over.
The Bottom Line:
Paul Weitz may have finally lost his way with this political comedy that goes for the most obvious digs at the President and “American Idol,” rather than showing off the innovation that got him to this point. Even diehard liberals have their limits when old jokes are rehashed for the umpteenth time, and those who appreciate Weitz’s previous movies may be disappointed with this lazy effort.