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Sunday, April 23, 2006

American Dreamz

Would you really want to live in Ezzex or Colchezter? Or go zwimming in Mallett’z Bay? Neither would I, and it drivez, er, drives me crazy that we now have a whole generation of young people that seem to think that changing an “s” to a “z” will automatically make something trendy, hot, and hip enough for them to deign an acceptable part of their culture ~ at least for the next week or two until something elze takes its’ place. So what has this to do with the movies, you ask? Well, one of the latest releases at the Essex Cinemas is an entertaining political satire called, unfortunately, American Dreamz. I am convinced that if the movie studios thought they could force theater owners to put little hearts or smiley faces over the “i”s on their marquees they’d do it too so everything in our culture could reflect the mindset of an eleven year old girl.

I know the staff at the Essex Cinemas is a smart bunch, and even the youngest of them (shout out
to Christy!) wouldn’t buy the “z” marketing ploy as a way to make American Dreamz a hipper, younger movie. It’s about the President of the United States, for one thing. There is nothing hip about him, even when he is played by Dennis Quaid, and he is here.

Okay, so to be fair, the American Dreamz of the title is actually the name of a television series not to be confused with “American Idol” but it obviously is meant to be. The fictional show American Dreamz is produced by and stars Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason; Love Actually), a Simon Cowell-type who marvels at his own lack of compassion and delights in exploiting the lowest common denominator of culture to make great ratings and big bucks. He actually hates his own show, but he knows what he needs to keep it a hit. “Bring me freaks!” he screams at his staff, and so they try to do just that.

While the staff at American Dreamz is searching for contestants, the White House press is
looking for the President. It seems that since winning re-election, President Staton (Dennis Quaid, Yours, Mine and Ours; Flight of the Phoenix) has been hiding out for weeks in his bedroom. This President, from Texas, the son of a former President, a recovering alcoholic, and not known as the brightest bulb in the chandelier, is having a crisis of his own, other than his inability to effectively manage the war he has led the country into and his failing efforts to stop the spread of terrorism. He has made the mistake of reading a newspaper, something his Chief of Staff, Willem Dafoe (Inside Man; Spiderman 2) has spent years keeping him from doing, instead spoon-feeding him only positive news that fit into his agenda. Upon learning that “There’s a lot of stuff out there” the President has withdrawn into a cocoon of depression that even First Lady Marcia Gay Harden (American Gun; Bad News Bears) can not lure him out of with the help of her “happy pills.”

Finally, the Chief of Staff comes upon a brilliant plan to show the press and the American people that the rumors that the President has had a nervous breakdown are not true. He arranges for the Commander in Chief to be a celebrity judge on the season finale of American Dreamz, proving to the world that Staton is not completely loony, but just to make sure the Chief plans to feed him all his lines through an ear-piece so basically Staton will be nothing but a puppet for this older, balding man-behind-the-scenes, the same man who served his father when he had been President. It almost makes you wonder who writer/director Paul Weitz (In Good Company; About a Boy) could have possibly based these characters on. Hmmmm.

Complicating things are the conflicting and colliding stories of the final two contestants, Omer (Sam Golzari, tv's The Closer), a failed member of Al-Qaeda who was exiled to Orange County from Iraq because he brought shame upon his people due to his penchant for show tunes and Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore; Romance & Cigarettes; Saved!), the show’s requisite poor white trash poster girl who has been manipulated by her agent (Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers) and her uber-stage mother Jennifer Coolidge (tv’s Joey; Date Movie) to become engaged on-air to a wounded veteran (Chris Klein, Just Friends) she can’t stand.

You can imagine that with politics, an Iraqi insurgent, a horny teenage girl willing to do anything to become a superstar, an unstable soldier stalker, a crazed mother, a greedy agent, a president with an IQ in the double digits (barely), and an unscrupulous Hollywood producer there will be an explosive climax in the mix, and there definitely is.

This is not your regular Hollywood comedy. It is a satire masquerading as a comedy, which is going to come as a disappointment to those expecting the usual dumb jokes and sight gags of a Scary Movie 4 or for the teenz (see, I can do it… or iz that “zee, I can do it”) that are looking for sexual innuendo and girlz with short shortz and teeny tops. If American Dreamz didn’t have such a well-known cast and as big a budget it might well have played in art houses instead of in the mainstream at the Essex Cinemas because underneath the glamour of Hugh Grant’s dimples and Mandy Moore’s doe eyes there lies a lot of hard-hitting commentary about the ridiculousness of the society we live in today. Here is a chance to have some laughs and still get the opportunity to step back and consider just how we operate as a people in a world where television rules us all. Don't miss it.

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