Monday, August 27, 2012

Movie – American Dreamz (2006)

American Dreamz pissed off a large part of the country when it was released in 2006.  It is a dark comedy and deeply biting satire of then President George W. Bush, then very popular TV show American Idol, and then not-far-removed-from-9/11 terrorists.  That angered Republicans, TV sheep, and people who felt it was too soon to show terrorists in movies, even if it was to make fun of them.  As you probably can guess, I was not one of the people offended by this film; in fact, I really enjoyed it.  It draws some great parallels between how we elect a President and how people vote for a TV competition winner, including the importance of image over reality.  As the tagline for the film says, “Imagine a country where more people vote for a pop idol than vote for their next President.”

The writer and director of this film is Paul Weitz.  Yes, the same man who did American Pie.  Even though the titles are similar, and there are some familiar faces from the Pie film, the two movies are not connected.  Weitz is loyal to the people who he has made movies with.  In this film he uses Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, and John Cho from American Pie; Hugh Grant from his 2002 film About a Boy; and Dennis Quaid from his 2004 film In Good Company.

In American Dreamz we see the inner workings of the White House, a televised singing competition titled American Dreamz, and a terrorist cell.  All of these are made fun of in a big way.

We see the President (Quaid), basking in the glow of having just been re-elected, deciding to read a newspaper – something he’s never done before.  After he does, he starts asking his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) things like “did you know there’s more than one kind of Iraqistani?”  He decides to read all the newspapers he can find.  He disappears for weeks, canceling all his public appearances so he can stay in and read.  When he reappears, his Chief of Staff wants him to “get back on message” so the President wears an earpiece at public outings with Dafoe’s character whispering to him everything he needs to say, which he then repeats like a puppet.  Did I mention that Dafoe’s character looks a lot like Dick Cheney?

Meanwhile, we meet Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), the British man who runs American Dreamz.  He’s gearing up for a new season and he’s got his assistants (John Cho and Judy Greer) out pre-selecting all the contestants he cynically (and correctly) figures will fit into the stereotypes most likely to appeal to an American audience.  At one point he’s listing off the “types” and he says, “We need someone for the boys to masturbate to [pauses, points to a picture of Mandy Moore’s character] although we may already have that.”

Moore plays an outwardly sweet all American girl, who inside is the ultimate conniver.  She’ll do anything she has to in order to win this competition.  This includes reuniting with the boyfriend she dumped (Klein) because he is now a wounded Iraq War veteran.  When Tweed meets her face to face he discovers a kindred spirit that is just as sociopathically willing to manipulate and lie to get what she wants as he is.  She sings white trash country songs such as “Mommy Don’t Drink Me to Bed Tonight”.  Her mother (Coolidge) is bothered by this because the family isn’t white trash, but her daughter’s agent (Seth Myers) says, “Look what it did for Britney Spears.”  Although I had never watched American Idol, a co-worker assured me this was a dead on satire of a contestant that had been on the prior year’s show.

The final part of the plot concerns a terrorist cell that wants to assassinate the President and to strike back at the heart of “American culture” – American Dreamz.  The President, in order to boost his approval ratings, is going to appear on the final American Dreamz show of the season as a guest judge.  The terrorists decide to leverage a contestant already on the show.  Once he gets all the way to the finals (failure is not an option) he will detonate a suicide vest while the President is shaking hands with him.  This contestant (Sam Golzari) is a man who flunked out of terrorist training and was sent to the U.S. to get him out of everyone’s way.  All he really wants to do is sing American show tunes.  Needless to say, his heart is not in the “right” place to go through with the plan, but he also doesn’t want to disappoint.  Long before Four Lions (2010) made fun of terrorists, American Dreamz completely skewered them.  Oh, and in another move guaranteed to anger, this terrorist character is probably the most likable one in the film.

So let’s see, we’ve pissed off Republicans, people who don’t think the Presidency should be made fun off, people who watched American Idol, people who loved Simon Cowell, people who loved the sweet lovable Mandy Moore, people who don’t think terrorism is a proper subject for humor, Arabs, Persians, and people who laughed, but consider themselves much smarter than the average person who they feel wouldn’t be able to tell that this was a satire, and so they get offended for them.  That’s a large percentage of the American movie-going public.

I’m not afraid to go against the tide.  I liked this movie a lot, and was impressed with how far they took things.  If you are the kind of person who is easily offended, or even offended some of the time, then you should probably avoid this movie.  For everyone else, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

           DVD                  Instant Video

No comments:

Post a Comment