Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Golzari, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Klein, Seth Meyers
Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President.
On the eve of his re-election, the president (Dennis Quaid) decides to read a newspaper for the first time in years. His new knowledge of current events sends him hiding in his room for weeks, so his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) books him as a guest judge on American Dreamz, a TV talent contest hosted by Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). This prompts a terrorist plot surrounding the telecast that may derail the career of would-be pop star Sally (Mandy Moore).
$3.667 million on 1500 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 108 min.
Release Date: 10/17/2006
• Audio Commentary with Director Paul Weitz and Actor Sam Golzari
• 13 Deleted Scenes
• ďCenter Stage: Sally KendooĒ Featurette
• ďDance DreamzĒ Featurette
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American Dreamz (2006)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 25, 2006)
American Idol, the Bush administration, terrorism and a host of other topics get the satirical treatment from 2006ís American Dreamz. In rapid succession, the film introduces us to a series of characters. Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) is the self-absorbed and arrogant host of American Dreamz, a series that tries to make pop stars. President Joe Staton (Dennis Quaid) rides high after his re-election.
Muslim Omer Obeidi (Sam Golzari) receives terrorist training but wants to be a musical performer. The terrorists send Omer to California to await a mission that likely will never come. This coincides with the new season of American Dreamz, for which white trashy Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) gets chosen to compete. After this goes to her head and she dumps him, ex-boyfriend William (Chris Klein) reassesses his life and joins the Army.
After he reads a newspaper for the first time in decades, Staton realizes how much he doesnít know and becomes a shut-in obsessed with learning. He makes no public appearances for weeks, an issue that causes concerns. To reassure folks, his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) gets Staton a slot as a guest judge on American Dreamz. William receives a war wound in Iraq and tries to patch things up with Sally, a path she pursues so she can use the public interest angle on Dreamz.
When Martin decides the series needs a Muslim contestant, they seek out Omerís cousin Iqbal (Tony Yalda). However, they come upon Omer instead and decide to drag him onto the show. When his terrorist sponsors see this, they give him a mission. Omer needs to succeed on the show and get to the final round. Thatís when Staton will appear, so they want Omer to then explore a bomb and kill the president. Dreamz follows the fortunes of all involved as it leads toward the big conclusion.
Dreamz doesnít exactly take a subtle path. It paints broad characters who leave little room for interpretation. The movie presents on the nose spoofs of public figures that donít go too far beyond common interpretations. We see President Bush as a simplistic dope manipulated by those around him, and Simon Cowell is a narcissistic prick. This barely qualifies as parody.
Even those less obviously based on real people lack breadth. Sally is an awfully uninspired character, and only Omer almost threatens to become more substantial. However, even he stays pretty one-dimensional. He doesnít portray any struggle with his terrorist training and his more humanistic side, so we donít see him as anything other than a sweet guy.
Granted, the movie does attempt some slight twists. It shoots for irony in the way that the president loses touch when he becomes more informed and educated. We also watch as Tweed starts to sour on himself and desires to become a better person. Similar growth occurs in Sally. I suppose I should applaud these trends, but they donít help the flick. Instead, they just add a layer of mush to the experience. The filmmakers canít quite buy into the appropriate level of cynicism, so they undercut it with a layer of sappiness.
Dreamz clearly wants to pursue a dark Strangelove vibe, but it never gets there. While I find the Kubrick classic to be profoundly overrated, at least I can respect its singularity of tone and vision. Dreamz lacks the spine to embrace the same level of cold cynicism. Itís like a dog who snaps at you but then puts on the sad eyes and begs you to hug him.
When the film works, it usually does so due to a pretty solid cast. They add humor to an otherwise uninspired script. Quaid and Grant manage to do more than just imitate their inspirations, and Moore provides an amusingly calculating take on her Kelly Clarkson-esque character. The actors prove uniformly engaging, even though the movie wastes a few of them. Dafoe gets little to do in a strangely sunny take on Dick Cheney, while Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden and nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo receive little attention.
Unfortunately, the cast canít overcome the lack of substance found in American Dreamz. It takes on obvious targets and hits its subjects right on the nose. This provokes occasional laughs but not enough to make it memorable.
Ratings footnote: somehow Dreamz avoided the usual restrictions on the ďF-wordĒ. The normal rule is that a ďPG-13Ē flick gets one of these, but Dreamz drops two. Maybe thatís because each one appears at the opposite end of the flick, so perhaps the ratings board forgot the first when they got to the second.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+
American Dreamz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some attractive sequences, Dreamz lacked consistency.
For the most part, sharpness looked good. Some minor softness interfered at times, a factor compounded by moderate edge enhancement. However, the movie usually offered solid delineation, and I also noticed no concerns with jagged edges or shimmering. As for source flaws, the flick seemed a little too grainy at times, but other defects remained essentially absent. I saw a couple of specks but no other problems.
Colors presented a highlight of the transfer. Dreamz featured a lively palette that the DVD replicated quite well. The hues were a consistent strong point here. Blacks seemed fine, but shadows tended to disappoint. Too many low-light shots came across as a bit dense and thick. The transfer was acceptable overall but not as positive as Iíd expect.
Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offered greater consistency, it lacked anything to make it special. The soundfield was pretty lackluster. The TV performances presented the most involving segments, as the music and applause added spark from the various speakers. Otherwise, the track stayed restrained. Some highly localized elements came from the sides, and they failed to mesh terribly well. Take the shot in which Tweed pulled up to Sallyís house. The car didnít transition from the left to the center, as it stayed stuck in the side. There wasnít a lot to the soundfield, so those elements failed to add a lot to the experience.
At least audio quality was quite good. Speech consistently sounded distinct and crisp, and effects were fine. Though they didnít push the mix, they seemed accurate and appropriately full. Music fared best. The tunes and score were vivid and lively throughout the movie. The audio sounded good enough to bring this one to a ďB-ď, but donít expect much from the bland soundfield.
A small roster of extras completes the DVD. First comes an audio commentary with director Paul Weitz and actor Sam Golzari. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat, though Golzari doesnít appear until 45 minutes into the track. Weitz starts with some notes about his career progression and why he chose to do this project. He also discusses the actors and performances, other crewmembers, and themes, goals and politics. When Golzari arrives, the commentary becomes more nuts and bolts. We hear about Golzariís casting, his take on the role and his interactions with the others. Weitz also discusses songs, budgetary restrictions, and various filmmaking choices and issues.
At its best, the commentary proves reasonably introspective and interesting. While alone, Weitz offers the best notes, but he also goes silent too much. Though the track becomes more active with Golzari in tow, it doesnít include as much quality information. Overall, this combines to form a somewhat inconsistent but usually useful discussion.
13 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 12 minutes and seven seconds. The first few give us elongated promotional spots for the TV series, and later ones show more of the failed contestants; none of these add to the story. After that we see Omer and his cousins as he gets a dose of spoiled American culture, and we watch more of he president and his wife as he comes to terms with his status as a puppet. A few short character pieces fill out the rest. Some amusing bits appear, but we donít find anything of substance.
Two brief featurettes finish the package. Center Stage: Sally Kendoo goes for three minutes, 58 seconds as it focuses on the filmís fictional character. We see the Dreamz experience through her eyes in this goofy little program. It comes across more as a deleted segment than a featurette, but itís an entertaining piece of faux reality.
Dance Dreamz lasts seven minutes, 27 seconds. It includes comments from Weitz, Golzari, choreographer Jennifer Li, and actor Tony Yalda. As implied by the title, we learn a little about the movieís choreography, with an emphasis on Omerís moves. This offers a pretty good little overview of influences and what they tried to accomplish with his dancing. Though it never becomes a deep program, it gives us enough to succeed.
Perhaps because I dislike both President Bush and American Idol, I thought the trailers for American Dreamz showed a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the end result took easy pot shots and rarely managed to create anything more incisive than that. The DVD offers decent picture and audio as well as a moderately interesting set of extras. Neither a special disc nor a strong movie, this set doesnít earn my recommendation.
Viewer Film Ratings: 1.5833 Stars
| Number of Votes: 12