' ' Cinema Romantico: American Dreams (with a z)

Monday, April 24, 2006

American Dreams (with a z)

It is not unknown that I have acquired a reputation for being a movie snob. And quite frankly, I’m perfectly content with this label. Beyond content, actually – I actively promote myself as being a movie snob. There’s too little time in this life and far too many movies to see to waste my time mired in the muck and dredge of cinema. But even a snob like me can sometimes require a little Hollywood fluff in his diet.

As I awoke yesterday I had planned to see the new Michael Keaton film “Game 6”, which is the first screenplay penned by acclaimed playwrite Don DeLillo. It tells the story of (surprise!) a playwrite/Boston Red Sox fan who must decide between attending the opening of his latest work or watching the infamous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. But as the morning progressed I decided I wanted something lighter – more mindless – more Hollywood. Thus, I had no choice but to make a trek to see “American Dreamz”.

When I first saw the preview for "American Dreamz" I was certain it was the work of a bitter screenwriter fed up with his brilliantly complex scripts being rejected time and again by asinine Hollywood producers. The plot encompasses a clueless American President (!), Iraqui terrorism (!!), and an "American Idol"-type show (!!!). It had broken-spirited sell-out written all over it. But then I learned the writer and director was none other than Paul Weitz - one of the masterminds behind the first "American Pie". He had already sold-out. There went that theory.

But much to my surprise, "American Dreamz" actually turned out to be a sly satire on the state of recycled Hollywood movies. Sort of. It certainly wanted to be a sly satire - it just didn't fire on all cylinders pretty much the whole movie. It felt like a first draft that needed a lot more working out.

Basically, we have Dennis Quaid as a lug of an American President with, of course, a southern drawl. We have Hugh Grant hosting the reality TV show "American Dreamz" which is, of course, a parody of "American Idol". The two intrepid contestants we follow during the course of the movie are Mandy Moore (trailer trash from Ohio) and The Omar-izer (an Iraqui who is coached by his flamboyant cousin). Essentially, our President suddenly decides to start reading newspapers and (gasp) books and worries the nation as he locks himself in his room and is not seen for weeks and weeks. But his chief-of-staff (Willem Dafoe, sparing no expense to look exactly like Dick Cheney) rigs it so he can re-claim the public eye by being a guest judge on the final episode of "American Dreamz" in which Mandy Moore and The Omar-izer will compete for the top spot. But this creates the perfect opportunity for The Omar-izer to strap a bomb to himself and blow up the evil American President on live TV.

Now, if you think that's a whole lotta' plot, folks, I haven't even budged the tiniest tip of the iceberg. There's Mandy Moore's boyfriend (Chris Klein) who enlists in the army and is used as a pawn in Moore's attempt to gain all the fame she can. There are devious talent agents, scheming mothers, calculating terrorists, a First Lady looking suspiciously like Laura Bush, Hugh Grant's crisis of conscious, and who-the-hell-knows-what-else. This is a flaw of the film. There's a tad too much plot.

I really believe Weitz's intent was to be a send-up of the aged plot mechanics and forced wackiness that pass for Hollywood entertainment these days. You could literally time the "twists" down to the nanosecond. That being said, it needed to be leaner and meaner and be more specific and more vicious in making fun of the genre. It just didn't go far enough. Example: near the end we have the inevitable moment when our two contestants wonder if all the fame is really worth it and they have a tete-a-tete in a hotel bar. This was a potential gold mine for exploring the cliche-ridden monlogues you normally get in this situation. It should have been hilarious! Instead we get a few lines from each character that aren't all that funny or moving. The situation is set up perfectly but it falls flat.

This is not to say there are not amusing moments sprinkled throughout. For instance, in movies where there is a climactic scene on TV you always find the bar in the main character's hometown packed wall-to-wall. Where do all these come from? Do none of them have jobs? Are they always in the bar? This movie resolves that by referring to them as "unemployed patrons" of the town. That's clever. I also loved how the movie chose to ignore the obvious angle as playing up the President and the First Lady as complete morons and made them more into a nice, if slow and shallow, couple that probably enjoys nothing more than a weekend barbecue in suburban Houston.

But who knows? Maybe I'm way off base here. Maybe Weitz wasn't trying at all to send anything up and his sole intent was to make a diverting movie for Sunday afternoons. Whatever the case may be, I should have gone to see "Game 6".

1 comment:

Rory Larry said...

Probably it should be Iraqi not Iraqui and as Anthony Lane pointed out, the movie is actually too chicken to say what country Omer is from. This movie didn't just miss fire on some cyllanders, it miss fired on all of them. It was little more than "I'm an upset whiny liberal" jabs. As countless people have pointed out, a satire isn't so if it doesn't take a stab at everyone and have a willingness to be viscious.

In defense of Paul Weitz, he did adapt "About A Boy" and direct it, which I rather liked. The movie also made a point to note that Mandy Moore's character wasn't white trash, that was just how the agent sold her.