Not what it seemz

Despite some strong performances, film falls short of being biting satirical piece

TURN UP THE SMARM <br>Mandy Moore plays an ambitious middle-American blonde, while Hugh Grant plays himself.

Mandy Moore plays an ambitious middle-American blonde, while Hugh Grant plays himself.

American Dreamz Starring Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Marcia Gay Harden and Willem Dafoe. Directed by Paul Weitz. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Paul Weitz’s fitfully amusing comedy-satire may have a certain edge to it, conceptually at least, but in the onscreen event much of its apparent topicality and daring proves superficial at best—and unfunny and inconsequential at worst.

Weitz’s transparently provocative premise combines not-so-barbed spoofs of television’s American Idol craze and the Bush administration’s image-spin, with smarmy-snarky Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) hosting a televisual “American Dreamz” competition, the finale of which features a dim-witted U.S. president (Dennis Quaid) as a dazzled guest judge. And the competing finalists include a wackily starstruck Middle-Eastern immigrant (Sam Golzari) who has flunked out of suicide-bomber school and a ferociously ambitious middle-American blonde (Mandy Moore) who sees only publicity value in her starry-eyed “war hero” boyfriend (Chris Klein).

Grant and Quaid both turn in sharp, funny performances here, but their comic expertise provides only partial cover for the double whammy of uninspired direction and an erratic and seemingly half-baked script. Marcia Gay Harden (as the coaxing first lady) and Willem Dafoe (as the controlling presidential adviser) are striking without ever being particularly effective.

The jihadist flunk-out is living with well-to-do relatives blithely assimilated to suburban luxury in Southern California, and the giddy, half-cracked boyfriend goes to Iraq after only two weeks of training and gets wounded in his first hour of duty. There’s potential for some corrosive—or at least trenchant—satire in stuff like that, but Weitz and company have settled for something less, more often than not.