Dir: Paul Weitz. US. 2006. 107mins.
A comedy attempting to have fun at the expense ofseveral contemporary US institutions - George Bush and reality TV among them - American Dreamzis a disappointingly lame follow-up by director Paul Weitzto the pleasantly understated In GoodCompany. Too broad and obvious to rate as satire, the film is finallyneither focused nor acidic enough to say anything meaningful about the sorrystate of the US.
A strong cast led by HughGrant and Dennis Quaid should stir up some initialbox office interest in the domestic market where it opens on April 21, althoughAmericans who voted for George Bush and lap up American Idol will not be amused. The film might find its biggestaudiences in international territories where a homegrowncomedy lampooning Bush's America will be warmly embraced. It will promptly findits natural home in the DVD and TV market, although since its targets will beout-of-date in a year or two, its long-term value is questionable.
The film has no singlepoint-of-view. On the one hand, it tells the story of president Joe Staton (Quaid), who wakes up onthe morning of his re-election and decides to read the newspapers for the firsttime in four years. Stunned at what he discovers about the world and itsperception of him, he holes himself up in the White House while his wily chiefof staff (Dafoe) and benign First Lady (Harden) do all in their power to returnhim to the limelight.
In an attempt to counteractrumours that the President has had a nervous breakdown, the Chief Of Staff hasa meeting with Martin Tweed (Grant), the slippery, egotistical superstar hostof American Dreamz,a top-rated TV talent show, and books Staton onto theshow's finale as the guest judge.
Meanwhile, Tweed opts forsome unusual contestants on the new season. There's Sally (Moore), a rampagingly ambitious Midwestern girl who will do anythingto sing on the show, including taking back the dopey boyfriend (Klein) shepreviously dumped when he inadvertently becomes an Iraqi War hero. And there'sOmer (Golzari), a Middle-Eastern immigrant andshow-tune obsessive who is recruited by an Al Qaeda-esqueterrorist organisation to win the contest and assassinate Staton.
As the season kicks off,Tweed, who specialises in insulting his contestants in his snide English accent(sound familiar') finds himself romanticallyinterested in Sally, recognising so much of himself in her shallow, opportunisticways. The finale ends up as a showdown between Sally and Omer, who has capturedthe nation's hearts with his wide-eyed personality.
For all the banality of thetone and story, Weitz does manage to score someamusing performances from his cast. Grant is wonderfully acerbic as Tweedy,Moore bold and brassy as the ruthless Sally, Dafoe channels Dick Cheneymemorably and Golzari is charming as the haplessOmer. Newcomer Tony Yalda is also winning as Omer'scampy cousin Iqbal.
But Quaidand Harden have too little to work with as the Bushes to ruffle any feathers.Indeed, the film's blows feel like they have been softened and one yearns forsome pointed social comment to bleed through like in 1970s classics from The Candidate and Nashville to M*A*S*H and Shampoo. Now that was satire.
Depth Of Field
Marcia Gay Harden