American Dreamz is the highest rated television show in the United States, and its creator and host, the Brit Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), is delighted at its success, and equally delighted that his girlfriend is leaving him. He's not cut out for a well-balanced relationship, preferring it when people don't like him as befitting his straight-talking persona on the show, so is glad to see the back of the girl, but this kicks off a minor crisis in his mind. Is there any way that he can energise his enthusiasm for the job? His solution is that what he needs is more freaks...
It's a promising idea, to take the situation of the world's fraught politics and send them up through the medium of one of the most popular shows around, but as it played out, writer and director Paul Weitz's American Dreamz was singularly toothless as satire, taking what should have been savage comedy gold and fashioning it from mildest comedy tin. What he roped into the story was both the U.S. President (Dennis Quaid) who is suffering a nervous breakdown of sorts, and two of the contestants on the new series of the extravaganza: pushy little madam Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and Iraqi immigrant Omer (Sam Golzari).
It took practically the whole movie for these characters to be brought together, by which time any goodwill generated by tackling targets akin to taking aim at the proverbial barn door and missing had been dissipated thanks to Weitz's reluctance to go for the jugular, even when it was essentially proffered to him to sink his comedy teeth into. If anything, this was so touchy-feely that you could be forgiven for not noticing it was meant to be funny at all, as it didn't contain any decent jokes and had instead a great sympathy for those it depicted, even the characters who were ostensibly mean-minded.
Sally was one of those, acting up on cue for the cameras and dumping her boyfriend William (Chris Klein) when it seems he'll hold her back, whereupon he signs up for the Army, goes to Iraq and is wounded and returns in the space of a couple of weeks. Sally doesn't wish to see him until it's pointed out to her that having a veteran boyfriend will play well to the public, something which should have been presented with cold-hearted cynicism but in effect remained as uninspiring as the rest. Meanwhile, a President who starts reading the newspapers and decides he doesn't wish to engage with the world anymore isn't a bad concept, but this too turns to mush.
Only Omer's plotline looked to be heading somewhere as he is accepted almost by accident to the show, but his newfound fame is a poison chalice as he is pressured to be a suicide bomber by terrorists when they learn the President will be a judge on the final Omer makes it to. Once again, nothing comes of this, as if Weitz had observed the situation with the modern media and the political climate and realised that change was never going to happen, so rather than close his movie with a howl of anguish he ended it with a resigned shrug. For all the faux razzmatazz there's an enervating feeling to American Dreamz, where the only solution to the confusing world we live in is to go with the flow because there are only two courses of action: vote on TV talent showcases or try to ignore them and be excluded. If anything, the self-loathing of the Grant character bleeds over into the rest of the film, leaving no satisfaction that anybody has been taken down with satire, and things continue much as they have. Music by Stephen Trask.