Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

American Idol Season 4:
Behind-the-Scenes Fan Book: Prima's Official Fan Book

. "American Dreamz"

Just because a guy is the host of a highly successful TV show on the order of "American Idol" doesn't mean he's normal, ordinary, or predictable. He could be the opposite of all those. And, to channel our thinking along those lines writer-director Paul Weitz ("American Pie") starts his equal opportunity spoof with Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) reading the report on high numbers for his show and being told by his gorgeous girlfriend that she's leaving him.

"Good idea," he says (or words to that effect) and goes on to fully support her excellent decision, This is how he says goodbye to a fine looking all- American girl who might be the fantasy dream of all us guys. "Good idea," indeed, and his little speech to her is delivered with all the earnestness of a cynical, nefarious, seen-it-all bachelor with a twisted set of values (and with the special brand of insouciant charm Hugh Grant does so well).

Which gets us off on a satirical lampoon of several things, not the least of which is the guy sitting in the oval office. Poor President (that's of the U.S. of A.) Staton (Dennis Quaid), however, is spending more time in bed, in a state of withdrawal from his advisors and his house expert feeding him what he should say and how he should think. Staunch Republicans who don't want to see their guy represented this way might want to sit this one out.

But, the laughs come, and encompass several other American values that may well touch citizens of the free and unfree world. Even Jihadists are targets of Weitz's humanistically satiric arrows, spoofing even those who would do us harm.

And so, we have a host who's grown tired of the usual performer that he and his staff have put onstage for national attention for so long. To keep his own interest piqued, he wants something more... well, testy, eccentric, bizarre in terms of choice and chemistry. Waiting at home for just such a chance to break out of her small Midwestern town mold is Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) (and, yes, she can do!) who has just kissed off her obsequious boyfriend, William Williams (Chris Klein). Jump to the chase: when Tweed meets this babe, after having seen her video, he knows he's found a soul mate with the same disaffection for most of the norms of society.

On another hot topic, Omer, a young suicide bomber in Al Qaida-like training is sent to America to live with his cousins because of his lack of aptitude for shooting, killing and tactics, not necessarily in that order. His real interest is in American show tunes, singing them and dancing them in his desert tent at night. When he's chosen for American Dreamz (balancing out against an Hasidic Jew who sings), the folks back in the desert camp, huddled over their TV, recognize their boy. When they then hear that President Staton is going to be a judge in the finals, they offer him a breakthrough opportunity to enter paradise. Omer is William Hung, radicalized.

Meanwhile, VP/Chief Handler Sutter (Willem Dafoe) (clearly made up to suggest our own Mr. Cheney) with the wispy but intent support of first lady, Laur... er, uh, Mrs. Staton (exemplary Marcia Gay Harden) work to bring President Staton back to the public eye after his re-election and his subsequent funk and withdrawal. Staton's appearance on the show is part of the ploy to make him a populist prez again.

The cast is having a good time and giving it to us. For me, Mandy Moore's sensuality and depth of talent is a discovery (I know, I know, where've I been?). The jokes work, though not necessarily for all demographics at the same time. The youth crowd will have their chuckles, especially in Omer/Sally Kendoo sequences; character analysts will enjoy the archly depressing negativity of the two leads; and the politically bent will have a field day with the Washington connection.

The film flirts with that line between acceptable reality and far-out farce with Quaid taking the biggest leap into the realm of goofy exaggeration. Despite the stretch, though, he comes off entertainingly laughable by virtue of the man he's satirizing.

With satire you can easily go off track thinking your material will tickle everyone's funny bone and it so often doesn't. It's a form of entertainment that attracts a tough crowd and a challenge to pull off, but this one duz it and makes the complexity look easy.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack Album

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