Sunday, April 23, 2006

AMERICAN DREAMZ - More hit than miss, but still not brilliant

AMERICAN DREAMZ is an above-average black comedy that mocks modern popular culture - from reality TV shows, to political spin-doctors - no target is safe. The central idea is that a second-term President who is losing out in the ratings is booked on an American Idol-style show as a celebrity judge. A young Middle Eastern immigrant, who coincidentally has a soft-spot for show-tunes and has been selected as a contestant on the show, is instructed to blow up the President in the final. Some people have objected that it is too soon to create a black satire concerning suicide bombers. I disagree. In the black, vicious, dog-eat-dog World of Bina007, *everything* is fair game. I can laugh at everything no matter how close to the bone: my only proviso and justification is that it must be FUNNY.

As one would expect from writer/director with Paul Weitz' pedigree*, AMERICAN DREAMZ hits home at least half the time, and provides an above-average amount of belly laughs.
In particular, Hugh Grant is an absolute revelation as slimy TV show host Martin Tweedy. The man is a Gordon Gekko for the Big Brother age: a rogue we love to hate. He is sleazy, materialistic, nasty and immensely attractive. One of my favourite moments is when he bites on my all time favourite love scene. In AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man." To which Hugh Grant says to the woman in his life, "I'm not a better man. I'm me." Shohreh Aghdashloo is also brilliantly funny as Omar The Suicide Bomber's aunt. I was impressed by her dramatic chops in THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, but just look at her range. Mandy Moore is also remarkably good as the peaches-and-cream all-American contestant on the show. And here I use the term "good" relative to my almost negative expectations of what she would be like. But other, greater comic talents are wasted - notably Jennifer Coolidge (the MILF in AMERICAN PIE) and John Cho (Harold in HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITECASTLE).

However, in the second half of the movie, once we are done laughing at the concept, the humour runs dry and aside from the odd one-liner, the movie limps along to the end. I couldn't help wonder what would have happened if Weitz had brought in Parker & Stone of South Park fame as his script-doctors to beef things up a bit. And that got me to thinking how feeble this movie really is when compared to the black comedy greats - Team America, Strangelove and two great UK TV shows - Nathan Barley and Brass Eye. Worse still, AMERICAN DREAMZ completely pulls its punch at the end, dribbling into a mushy, Hollywood ending rather than, Strangelove style, following its own internal logic through to a more ludicrous and spectacular finale. So all in all, despite the fact that the Hugh Grant character may be my ideal man, this movie left me feeling disappointed.

AMERICAN DREAMZ is on release in the UK and US. It hits France on June 9th 2006 and Austria and Germany on June 15th. *American Pie, In Good Company, About A Boy.