“American dreams, dreams with a Z.”

Let me put something to rest right away. Despite reports to the contrary, American Dreamz is funny. Yes, its comedic touch is surprisingly light, given the fat targets it skewers (the Bush-Cheney presidency, rapacious fame-seekers, American Idol, terrorists) and bitter critics can be forgiven for wishing for the scorched-earth satirical approach of Paddy Chayefsky, or even the South Park guys. Certainly, the moments in the movie where the jokes seem planted — a line about the President’s Daily Brief containing cartoons; a zinger about an SUV that’s fifty percent larger than anything else on the road — are deadly dull. But I believe this satire to have fangs, even if they aren’t bared.

The truly funny moments come from the inspired conconction of character and plot. The set-up is this: A terrorist named Omer (Sam Golzari) who only wants to sing and dance gets selected by an American Idol-ish show called American Dreamz. His sleeper cell superiors (who watch the show, natch) tap him to explode a suicide bomb when the President of the United States appears as a guest judge in the final. Another Dreamz competitor, Sally Kendoo of Padookie, Ohio (Mandy Moore), manipulates her puppy-dog-like Iraq-War-veteran boyfriend (Chris Klein) for America’s sympathy all while romancing the Simon Cowell-clone host (Hugh Grant).

There’s a gloriously immoral performance by Mandy Moore, but we’ve seen her play this same hypocrite in Saved!. The character who steals the show is Omer’s cousin and choreographer Iqbal (played not so straight by Tony Yalda). He turns a well-worn cliche into comedy by sheer commitment to his character, an opportunity the directing and screenwriting (by Paul Weitz) don’t allow the major players, subverting their fidelity to the world in which they live with pointless pratfalls and the aforementioned sit-commish cracks. Those flaws aside, its nice to see a movie in theaters that will surely be looked back on ten or twenty years from now as pure Zeitgeist.

Continue reading about American Dreamz (WARNING: Contains Major Plot and Joke Spoilers)…WARNING: MAJOR PLOT AND JOKE SPOILERS AHEAD

I praise the kooky, Zeitgeist-attuned plot — but it isn’t without gaps. It papers over with a montage what could’ve been an exciting sequence of how exactly the ridiculous Omer and the hollow Sally manage to make it to the final round. A man known as “The Torturer” had promised earlier in the movie to use his skills to ensure Omer’s selection. If The Torturer and Sally had difficulty extorting the American voting public, the movie gives no hint. As unlovable as the most of the characters are, they are nothing compared to the American people, who are the true targets of this film’s barbs. After all, it’s not President Staton’s fault that he was re-elected. (The film’s only real Bush-bashing moment is when he says his mother pushed him into politics to show to his father that any idiot can win the White House.)

To determine whether or not the movie has an actual bite, I’m going to have to discuss the climax. If you haven’t yet seen the film, the following discussion could potentially lessen your enjoyment of it.

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Okay, you were warned. So, the burning question of the film’s climax: did Chris Klein’s jilted soldier kill himself intentionally? That’s how I saw it. The people I saw the movie with had other theories — he walked into the camera accidentally or Martin Tweed pushed the camera into him. The first one I just can’t buy. He refused the president’s order and was clearly committed to killing himself. Whether Hugh Grant’s character was also suicidal enough to make the act mutual is debatable. The movie plants the idea early on that both have suicidal tendencies.

Working backwards from the filmmakers’ probable intentions, we can surmise that they wouldn’t go for a toothless accidental or ambiguous explosion ending — seeing as only Bridge on the River Kwai has been able to pull that off, and there with extenuating irony. We might also guess that Martin Tweed’s sole concern is making great television, and that, while he has clearly accepted the risk of death by remaining in the t.v. studio, he has grabbed a camera and not tried to accelerate the issue.

The joke, then, is on the American people, because we find out that William Williams was the surprise winner of the American Dreamz competition. The American people have literally voted for a young man in uniform to kill himself on television. Just like happens every day in real life — get it? A cruel joke, once the fangs are revealed.

PREFER ACTION? The Weinstein Company has released the first 8 minutes of Lucky Number Slevin on YouTube.