With the ratings for "American Idol" higher than ever and the approval ratings for President Bush lower than ever, it would seem an ideal time to unveil American Dreamz, Paul Weitz's satiric jab at our country's military-entertainment complex. We're so busy watching Kellie Pickler channel Dolly Parton on "AI" that we may not have time to vote in next fall's congressional elections. Or so Weitz, who also wrote the script, would have us believe. And maybe he's right. But 1) this kind of thing has been going on at least since the three-ring circuses of ancient Rome, and 2) American Dreamz is so lacking in bite that it barely even qualifies as satire. Sinking its missing teeth into the president's backside, it tries to gum him to death. Ouch, that tickles.
Hugh Grant, wrapping his lips around a Cockney twang, does a passable impersonation of Simon Cowell, the snitty twit America loves to hate. And if Weitz had stuck with Grant, he might have had something; the guy knows how to play self-love mixed with self-loathing. But American Dreamz wants to take on the whole shooting match, and so here's Dennis Quaid as the amiably clueless president of the United States, who shocks his staff (including Willem Dafoe in a Dick Cheney lack-of-hairpiece) when he decides to read a newspaper. Quaid isn't exactly known for comedy, and after this he still won't be. But you have to wonder who decided to go so easy on the Commander in Chief. Even Laura Bush was meaner than this at last year's White House Correspondents Dinner.
Mandy Moore, overdosing on artificial sweetener, plays a Kelly Clarkson wannabe from Padookie, Ohio, but how many times do we have to be told that America's Sweetheart is actually Joan Crawford in disguise? A little more promising is Sam Golzari as Omer, a Middle Eastern terrorist who, through luck and pluck and a weakness for Broadway show tunes, winds up, along with Moore's Sally Kendoo, in the Final Two. And with the prez serving as a guest judge, there's the chance to go out with a bang, so to speak. But Weitz shows no ability to light the fuse, which makes the suicide-bomber Maguffin seem merely tasteless. With material like this, you need to take everything over the top. Instead, American Dreamz, like the title, drifts off to sleep.
And so do we.