Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), a conceited, rich and hugely popular producer and host of the most popular show in America, "American Dreamz", a weekly show showcasing amateur singers who want to become the next musical superstar, is at a crossroads in his life. After each performance, Tweed either gives them praise or eviscerates them with harsh criticism. Then the public votes and the people with the most votes move on to the next week. Tweed demands that his producers find a more diverse talent pool, including a Jewish and an Arab contestant, to help liven up this season. President Staton (Dennis Quaid), having just won re-election, decides to read a newspaper. He is shocked to read of all of the problems in the world. His Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) panics and tries to get the President to continue to receive his briefings, but the President holes himself up, staying out of the public eye, for three weeks reading anything and everything he can. The public begins to wonder if the President has gone insane prompting the Chief of Staff to arrange a series of public appearances, everything from a `meet and greet' with Carmen Electra to becoming a guest judge on the season finale of "American Dreamz". Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) is a middle class girl from Ohio who is picked to appear on the show. She is so sure that she will become a star she dumps her long time boyfriend William Williams (Chris Klein) who promptly enlists in the army, arrives in Iraq, is shot and returns home, all in the space of two weeks. Omer (Sam Golzari), an inept terrorist, is banished from the terrorist training camp and sent to Orange County to live with an aunt and uncle. Omer is to live like a normal person and wait for the call to action. His gay cousin, Iqbal (Tony Yalda) has erected a huge stage in the basement of their home and applied to be on "American Dreamz". One day, Omer is performing "Luck Be a Lady" on the stage when producers from "American Dreamz" arrive, looking for Iqbal, and ask him to participate.
Normally, such a convoluted synopsis would almost guarantee that I would at least like the film. And this synopsis only scratches the surface. A film with so many stories, with so much going on, is at least going to keep you interested. Right? Wrong. Only one of the characters is likable or interesting and this creates a sort of vacuum, draining everything of life. As we watch all of these characters moving through the stories, we become bored. Yes, they are doing things. But we don't really care because we have no feelings for any of the characters. Even bad characters can be interesting, causing us to have some feelings about what they are doing.
On more than one occasion, characters exchange dialogue and then stop, pausing, before continuing. This is the equivalent of two actors on stage who are engaged in witty banter and then laughter and applause from the audience cause them to stop, so no one will miss a word. In a film you can't do this. The best, funniest films are the films we laugh through 50% of the jokes. When we do this, we might go to see the film again, or rent it on DVD, catching the remainder of the laughs. When you do this in film, it becomes the equivalent of watching a bad comedian doing stand up. Every time he tells a joke, he waits for the laughter. If there are laughs, he stops and waits before continuing. In "Dreamz", there aren't that many laughs.
A satire shouldn't be easy and it should take us to places we never expected. In "Dreamz", all of the subject matter is far too easy. It is like watching an extended "Saturday Night Live" skit. Hugh Grant playing a Simon Cowell rip off. Okay, that's amusing. But when his character doesn't do anything new or unusual, it becomes boring. From his television persona, we might expect Simon Cowell-like Martin Tweed to be self-obsessed, full of his stardom and dating young girls. But what could Grant and director Weitz have done with the character that we wouldn't expect? A lot, but it isn't on the screen. Quaid plays a Bush-like President. His father was President, he is from the South, he speaks with platitudes. Not a far stretch. And certainly a subject ripe for parody. But "Saturday Night Live" does a better job of lampooning the President on a weekly basis. The President doesn't know that there are three different types of Iraqis. Ha-ha-ha. Again, so much could've been done that isn't even attempted. Did the writer-director get lazy?
Mandy Moore plays a stardom obsessed young teenage girl. Clearly, she is supposed to be a cross of Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears. There are some funny ideas and jokes here, about Spears, how fame changes you, etc. But her character changes her mind every few seconds and it becomes inconsistent and ultimately boring as well. We get it. She is so obsessed with fame, willing to do anything. Yes, we get it.
The one standout in the cast is Sam Golzari. From the moment we first meet him at the Terrorist Training Camp (and we see they are shooting a recruitment video, a nice touch) and he starts singing along to a record of show tunes, we realize this character is something unusual and strange. As soon as he arrives in Orange County and starts interacting with his aunt and uncle and two cousins, we begin to get a glimpse of what this film could've been. The two cousins are clearly changed by live in an affluent community in Orange County. They take Omer to the mall. His aunt says "Maybe we should get Omer his own credit card?" His uncle replies "Sure, why not." The two cousins are clearly spoiled and their parents eat it up. This is the American Dream, to come to this country and provide a better lifestyle for your children. Many may not see their lifestyle as better, but it is for these people.
After Omer becomes a hit on "American Dreamz" and the terrorists approach him with their plan, he begins to have second thoughts. He is living his dream, performing songs on a television show (which is watched at the Terrorist Camp, thanks to satellite and TIVO) and isn't sure he has the heart to go through with the plan.
"American Dreamz" held a lot of promise. But the promise isn't fulfilled. Because many of the jokes fall flat and the parody isn't at the level we would hope, the film seems a lot longer than it actually is. Not good when we are watching a comedy.