Like many freak, er, reality shows, 'Dreamz' isn't clever, but you watch anyway
Randy: I don't know, man. You started out alright 'cause I like me some Hugh Grant, but it just wasn't funny. I wasn't feelin' it, but props for trying, dawg.
Paula: You are the shining star of what this land is all about: laughing and speaking from the heart. And Mandy Moore's hair is absolutely stunning.
Simon: Excrutiatingly wretched. You've taken a brilliant concept and made a tone-deaf, karaoke mockery of it. This isn't satire; it's suffering.
"American Dreamz" had the potential to be a crowd pleaser -- if you're the type of person that thrives on celebrity faux pas, plays reality show armchair critic or is part of the 63 percent giving Dubya a negative approval rating. Weitz's follow-up to the charming "In Good Company" and "About a Boy," however, is a rough ride through a cynic's mind that only hits a handful of witty high notes, sacrificing ingenuity and humor in pursuit of a farcical agenda.
Soulless Martin Tweed (Grant) is the executive producer/host of ratings jugggernaut "American Dreamz" and has decided that this season, he's going to do some creative casting. Topping this year's crop of pop star hopefuls is white trash cutie Sally (Moore), the show tunes-loving terrorist wannabe Omer (Sam Golzari) and rapping Orthodox cantor Sholem (Adam Busch).
Competition is fierce, but Sally is fiercer, doing everything to control her false sweetheart image, even reconciling with her doofus boyfriend William (Chris Klein) because of his patriotic injured war veteran status. Omer just wants to enjoy his newfound stardom, but his homeland's terrorist superiors want him to detonate a suicide bomb to assassinate the president (Dennis Quaid), who's a guest judge on the show's finale. Meanwhile, President Staton is questioning his policies for the first time after re-election.
Frankly, this film didn't really have much of a chance of successfully lampooning the world of "American Idol" because it's already mocked daily. Jokes about instant stardom, flexible ethics, mediocre talent, fallible judges and derivative songs have been done. Ditto for cracks about the president's naivete and love for alcohol. Weitz tries to invigorate both worlds by combining them and adding a farcical tone, but this backfires.
The film is never boring, but you just don't care about the characters. The usually charming Grant and Moore play calculating narcissists, while Golzari's Omer is the closest you get to a hero in the film except that he's too wishy-washy. Attempts to introduce sympathy (Sally was once overweight; Staton is being undermined) are curiously out of place in such a caricture-heavy film.
"Dreamz" only works when Weitz doesn't try to be clever or pointed, but just has fun, like when Sholem sings "Let's Get Raunchy Tonight" or the President Staton objects to briefings that compare opposing forces to Doc Ock and Magneto. There are definite laughs, but you can't help but wish Weitz stuck with his trademark heart and voted out crass sentiments like "I like watching freaks."