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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir-scr Paul Weitz
with Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Sam Golzari, Marcia Gay Harden, Willem Dafoe, Chris Klein, Jennifer Coolidge, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Judy Greer, John Cho, Tony Yalda
release US/UK 21.Apr.06
06/US Universal 1h47
Dreamz with a Z: Quaid and Grant
There's a vicious satire at the heart of this film, but it's so wrapped up in silly comedy that you might miss the point. Cleverly written and performed, it's entertaining but uneven.
Martin Tweed (Grant) is the cynical host of the pop-idol show American Dreamz. As the new season gets underway, he focuses on two ratings-grabbing contenders: corn-fed but ambitious Midwesterner Sally (Moore), complete with Iraq-vet boyfriend (Klein), and Middle Eastern immigrant Omer (Golzari), who's actually a sleeper terrorist. Which might be a problem since fuzzy-headed US President Staton (Quaid) is coming on the show as a guest judge to boost his own poll figures.
Beneath the breezy, often goofy surface is a lacerating examination of America's media, politics and consumerism, as well as the "get famous by any means necessary" culture. There are moments that are so astute that they take the breath away, and much of the throwaway dialog is jammed with brilliantly acerbic observation. But it plays out with so gently that it feels completely toothless. Even though it's not.
Performances follow this odd mix of inane parody and biting satire. Grant is often painfully real, a cruel mover and shaker who knows that he has no soul; then he's doing a sharp pastiche of Simon Cowell. Quaid sometimes nails the agonising impossibility of being a leader in a country ruled by special interests; then he falls back into a snappy sketch-type gag about George W. And of the strong supporting cast, only Golzari emerges with an interesting character, although he's often limited to smiley cuteness.
Weitz nicely balances comedy and drama About a Boy and In Good Company (and even in American Pie). There's enough good stuff here to make the film worth seeing, but he struggles to integrate perceptive comments into the corny plot, and spends too much time on the musical performances, which are, frankly, irrelevant. It ends on a jarringly vicious note that you might miss, since it's played as a cheery climax. If you can't get beyond the surface, it just feels like a pointless muddle. If you can tune into the subtext, this is a surprisingly haunting comedy.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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