Dir. Paul Weitz. 2006. PG-13. 107mins. Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Chris Klein.
There’s much to admire in Weitz’s socio-political satire, not least of which are its many outrageous yet plausible caricatures drawn together by the wildly popular network singing competition American Dreamz: a witless U.S. president (Quaid) doped up to offset a nervous breakdown; an Arab terrorist (Sam Golzari) so in love with American culture that he’d rather be singing show tunes; a contestant (Moore) who uses her Iraq vet boyfriend (Klein) for personal sympathy votes. And orchestrating them all is Martin Tweed (Grant), the self-loathing host, who exploits everyone’s needs for entertainment value. But just when the movie should draw blood, it settles for a mild scratch.
Not since the 1970s has this country experienced such a schizophrenic confluence of global military overreach and pop-culture narcissism—and yet Hollywood’s myth machine has failed to deploy the kind of razor-sharp satire that seems called for. Weitz has a keen ear for hypocrisy, and there is much in his comedy that shimmers with knowing insight about the temptations of fame and fortune. But his script is far from the Machiavellian treachery that Paddy Chayefsky vividly illuminated in his bilious script for the media-damning Network. The president is merely a victim of nefarious handlers; the terrorist is really just a good guy; the contestant is palatably phony. The result is a sort of Prozac condemnation of the world: Nothing too thought-provoking, please—people need to enjoy their evening.—Stephen Garrett