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05/08/2006 - AMERICAN DREAMZ


Here's a joke for you. "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side." Not very funny, is it? That's because we've all heard that joke more times than we can count, and the more we hear the same joke, the less funny it is. And that's the problem with AMERICAN DREAMZ - we've all heard the jokes before.

Written and directed by AMERICAN PIE'S Paul Weitz, AMERICAN DREAMZ wants to be a cutting-edge satire in the vein of NETWORK and WAG THE DOG, and its premise - an unpopular President guest-judges on an AMERICAN IDOL-like TV show to boost his poll numbers, while one of the contestants, an Arab in league with Al-Qaeda, seeks to assassinate him via suicide bomb - is cutting-edge at first glance. Unfortunately, DREAMZ' targets have already been satirized to death. Late-night TV comics and political cartoons have joked for years about how President Bush is a dimwitted stooge manipulated by his own Vice President. So seeing DREAMZ' President Dennis Quaid (made up to look like President Bush down to his Texas drawl) manipulated by his underling Willem Dafoe (made up to look like Dick Cheney down to his bald pate) doesn't have the shock of the new to be funny anymore. Nor do jokes at the expense of Britney Spears and AMERICAN IDOL, two cultural icons which have already been spoofed on shows ranging from MAD TV to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. When DREAMZ' breaks new satirical ground, like sending-up life at an Al-Qaeda training camp, it delivers some solid belly-laughs.

In order for satire to be truly effective, it needs to be prescient - ahead of the curve, not behind it. WAG THE DOG was released in 1997, when its conceit - a President fabricates a war to divert the public from his sexual peccadilloes - was fresh. If the film had been released a year later, when President Clinton launched an attack on Iraq in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it would have seemed dated, and thus much less funny. The same goes for the Academy-Award-winning NETWORK. When the film came out in 1976, the idea that "serious" news would be sold as facile entertainment was an outrageous rib-tickler. But with opinion "journalism" now a staple of Cable TV, NETWORK's prophecy has come to fruition. If NETWORK were released today, the audience would say, "So what, we already know this." But since the movie was released thirty years ago, well before news and entertainment merged, it won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

This isn't to say AMERICAN DREAMZ is a complete turkey. Hugh Grant gives a sharp performance as the Simon Cowell-like host of the show, equal parts charming prince and callous cad. And the final act has a terrific, unexpected twist that results in an ending that's refreshingly realistic for a major studio film.

Nevertheless, AMERICAN DREAMZ would have been much funnier had it come out in 1999, when it would have been trend-setting, not trend-following.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.


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