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
After getting the U.S. involved in a horrific and contentious war in the middle-east, and fighting a close re-election campaign because of it, the President (Dennis Quaid) wakes up the next morning and decides for once that instead of watching television he’s actually going to read the paper and see what’s going on in the world. Three weeks later he starts to think that maybe things aren’t as black and white as he has always thought, and his administration starts to freak out, particularly when America cares less about the President than they do about a little show called ‘American Dreamz’ where young Midwest hopeful Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) is battling it out with jihad sleeper cell member and Broadway crooner Omar (Sam Golzari) for victory.
“American Dreamz” is the latest in a fairly decently lengthed line of satires about the interrelation of the media (most often television) and politics in American life, and the sense of imbalance in modern American priorities. It’s decently, occasionally very, funny but too broad and never really sharp enough to be a powerful satire, or make it’s point stick. And that’s saying something about a film that ends with a man in a suicide bomber vest.
It’s over-the-top, more interested in caricature than character, and that waters the satire down. Sharp satire needs sharp characters that are both human and real, and a little insane. It’s a difficult balance to maintain and “American Dreamz” is off and on in that regard. The best by far are Martin, the self-aware narcissist who thinks he may have found a soul mate in Sally Kendoo, someone he can just be himself with (and isn’t that all anyone really wants, even a jerk?) and President Stanton, who has suddenly realized he might not be up to the task he is undertaking, but really wants to be.
Grant’s considerable charm is exactly what Martin needs and he has the character down cold, and the scenes between Quaid and his Cheney-esque Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) are the highlight of the film, as Quaid tries to figure out what is going on in the world and is increasingly frustrated with his ability to do so because of his administrations constant puppeteering. The film is just about worth watching just for them.
There are a few other highlights here and there; Chris Klein does his usual good-hearted-but-empty-headed bit, but it’s worth it all for his final few moments. Sam Golzari is a bit over-earnest as in over his head Omar, and he gets stuck with enunciating the film’s themes, which while important are badly handled enough that they could easily be missed. The supporting cast does good work, particularly John Cho and Judy Greer as Martin’s assistant, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as a completely assimilated Beverly Hills wife.
“American Dreamz” tries hard to be both important and farcical, but it leans a bit too much towards farce without being funny enough to pull that off either. It’s decent, but uninspired.