The first thing you should know about American Dreamz, the new film from writer/director Paul Weitz, is that it's a satire. It cannot, therefore, be held accountable for gaping plot holes, implausible set-ups, Iraqi terrorists who speak to each other in accented English, presidential figures who are more lobotomized than caricatured, and truly dreadful American Idol pop song parodies. All of the above are an intentional part of the fun. You should also know, however, that American Dreamz's brand of satire is closer to Saturday Night Live than Oscar Wilde. Writer/director Paul Weitz hits his targets mostly because they're too wide to miss, and there's nothing particularly nuanced about his portrayal of (North) America's obsession with celebrity (and apathy about most everything else). Still, cheap or otherwise, there are plenty of laughs. American Dreamz ain't subtle, but it's amusing.
The First Act careens between four main stories, all critical to the set-up of the film. In the opening scenes we are introduced to Martin Tweed, the host, judge and producer of the singing contest American Dreamz—the most watched television series in America. His wardrobe (and matching ego) are strikingly Seacrest-esque, while his acerbic wit would make Simon Cowell proud. Hugh Grant (last paired with Weitz in the stellar About a Boy) excels at playing charismatic, self-loathing manipulators, and he hits the mark once again as the charming and miserable Tweed. He informs his staff that he is bored of the usual contestants and orders them to find, among other things, an "Arab" and a "Jew" to compete on the show.
The President (Dennis Quaid) makes a guest appearance as a judge on 'American Dreamz,' hosted by Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant)
Meanwhile, at an Iraqi terrorist training camp (and video shoot) we are introduced to a hapless, show-tune loving trainee named Omer. Though seeking retribution for his mother's death in an American bombing, Omer's heart is clearly more tender than vengeful, and his superiors quickly determine that he has little aptitude for the terrorist business. They send him to live with some distant relatives in Orange County, telling him to await "activation" once he reaches America. The plan is really to leave him there in obscurity, but that changes when his unanticipated success on American Dreamz puts him in a uniquely ideal position to strike a deadly blow to the heart of American culture.
The third opening story involves the President of the United States, played by Dennis Quaid as a lovable idiot who, on the day of his reelection, makes the tragic mistake of reading a newspaper for the first time in years. Suddenly paralyzed by the complexity of the situations he's been asked to manage (which seemed black and white when other members of his staff handled the research), President Staton refuses to meet with the press and remains sequestered in his room, poring over books and discovering troubling new information. When rumors of a presidential breakdown get out of hand, Staton's Svengali-like Chief of Staff (a chrome-domed Willem Dafoe) sets up a media tour to repair the damage. First stop: Celebrity judge on the season finale of American Dreamz.