New parody doesn’t make it past judges

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (U-WIRE) – “American Dreamz” is like the “bad auditions” show of “American Idol” – manufactured tastelessness, punctuated by a handful of funny moments.

“Dreamz,” directed by Paul Weitz, does its best to ridicule the ratings juggernaut, and it does a decent job. Hugh Grant does a great imitation of Simon Cowell, for one thing. But it’s just unnecessary. “American Idol” has been parodied so many times, there’s not much left to lampoon.

Speaking of recycled unfunniness, how about mocking our president’s lack of communication skills? “Dreamz” sets its sights on that tired gag, too.

In fact, “Dreamz” manages to combine these two story lines. After an hour of boring exposition, the president of the United States (played by Dennis Quaid) decides to boost his sagging popularity by acting as a guest judge on the most popular talent show on television, “American Dreamz.”

If the scriptwriters decided to stick solely to that premise, this movie would fall under only the “kind of dumb” category. But no, they had to create the most sickening scenario I’ve seen in a while.

As in real life, this movie’s United States is at war in Iraq, and we are shown a Middle East terrorist training camp. One particular terrorist-in-training, Omer, is a sweet fellow who likes a good show tune and is eventually sent by his superiors to live in California to be a sleeper cell agent, unbeknownst to the Arab-American cousins with whom he is sent to live.

Omer’s more of an entertainer than a Jihadist, though, and quickly settles into American life. When he manages to land a contestant spot on “American Dreamz,” he’s thrilled – until his superiors tell him his mission is to make it to the finals and blow himself (and the president) up at the grand finale.

In a much darker comedy, that story line may have worked. The things we fear most can be the funniest when satirized the right way. It’s possible the real purpose of the movie was to address our determination to distract ourselves with pop culture instead of political engagement; however, the movie makes no serious attempt to explore those questions.

There are genuinely funny moments in this movie, but it takes an hour to get to them.

That would have been the key to “American Dreamz”‘s success: Yes, take the potshots at pop culture, but take it a step further and really explore why America would rather vote for an idol than a president.