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"American Dreamz"

Directed by Paul Weitz.
Written by Paul Weitz.
Starring Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Sam Golzari and Dennis Quaid.

Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  4/23/06


Even though I've never seen "American Idol"--REALLY, I have never seen it--I loved "American Dreamz" thanks to a great mix of satire in writer/director Paul Weitz's script and strong performances from stars in past Weitz productions.

Hugh Grant, who led Weitz's "About a Boy" back in '02, plays pretty much the same type of character he played the last time these two hooked up, this time a self-centered bastard named Martin Tweed.  After getting dumped by his year-long girlfriend in the opening moments of the film, Tweed gets back to his day job: producing the most popular television show in America, American Dreamz, a nationwide competition between 50 finalists to determine who should be awarded a singing contract as a result of winning the show.  The contestants seem to be random candidates but in reality are well-orchestrated ploys by the show's producers to represent just the right kind of star with whom a national TV audience will fall in love.  The lead candidates:  a white trash pop crooner from Podookie, OH named Sally (Mandy Moore), a Jewish rapper named Sholem (Adam Busch), and an Iraqi terrorist trainee named Omer (Sam Golzari) whose mother was blown out of this existence by American military teams but has a strange penchant for Broadway showtune recitals.  Meanwhile, the President (Dennis Quaid, from Weitz's last major release, "In Good Company") is in need of a major ratings boost from the people, so his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe) arranges to have the President appear as a judge on the finale of the popular TV program.

Whoa.  There's a good amount going on in "American Dreamz" (the movie, that is), but the movie is so damned funny that even having no idea how closely Weitz comes to nailing the FOX TV show on which this is based didn't matter...any movie that is so good at nailing a commentary on an out-of-touch President alongside giving us so much good stuff on why the fuck we watch these silly contests where we supposedly can pick the winner based on how many times we vote for somebody through our cell phone is brilliant to me.  The best thing about the humor is its accessibility; it is smart in that it never gets too highbrow, but never drags through the mud or gives us any real toilet, sexual or gross-out humor either.  Just watching Omer's vamping cousin Iqbal (Tony Yalda) yell out in anger while trying to teach Omer how to dance "IT'S JUST A BASS LINE, DAMMIT!" made our audience howl; the performance by Yalda is maybe the best among a crowded field of strong actors, because so many of the bits are small but effective.

Included in that are past Weitz performers Quaid and Chris Klein (from "American Pie"), as Sally's war veteran boyfriend; ever-present sidekick Judy Greer as an assistant on the Dreamz producing team; Noureen DeWulf, stunning in her beauty but also effective as Omer's more vacant, status-happy cousin; and Dafoe, who seems to be taking smaller roles but getting good at them, content to play bit player at this stage in his career.  Moore has real talent; after her stronger acting work in the religious comedy "Saved!" and now this, maybe she will be able to move gracefully from pop star to singer/actor hybrid when (if) her singing career fades.  Golzari hams it up--and glams it up, with the most ridiculous costumes in recent history--as the Iraqi living out the real American dream, and as the credits show, he has good voice talent to go with a pretty good performance as a lackey in the terrorist network that may or may not be willing to fulfill his original purpose.

I was very surprised by "American Dreamz"; good stuff all around.  Maybe now I can see why there were so many promotional showing of this film around town--the filmmakers were pretty confident they had gold on their hands.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09