This review might be rendered irrelevant by now, considering the extremely poor showing of the movie financially, and its inevitable disappearance from theatres within the next two weeks. In fact, after being totally overwhelmed with the ubiquitous advertising campaign, I’ve heard nothing about it in the past few weeks. I’m sure by now you probably don’t care about this movie, or have totally forgotten about it. I’ve written it though, and you’re going to read it.
Coming off of seeing “Thank You for Smoking” the week before, I was hoping that “Hollywood” would be two for two in the satire game. I was thoroughly disappointed. I should’ve known better after looking at other people’s reviews, but I’ve been known to not agree with most critics sometimes, see “Good night and Good Luck”, “Matchpoint”, and that terrible Robert Altman murder-mystery, “Gosford Park”. But I hate it when they’re right and I don’t listen to them. I mean seriously, how could it fail? It’s got a great premise (a president who’s losing face with the country is booked to be a guest judge on a fake american idol show, and terrorists, seeing an opportunity to come face to face with the POTUS, have one of their own attempt to make the finals in order to blow him up), the director of some good movies, including “About a Boy” and “In Good Company“, and it’s got a great cast. AND NY1‘s own Neil Rosen gave it a big four out of four apples!!
I have a confession to make that’s kinda off subject. I like Hugh Grant. I think he’s entertaining and enjoyable in pretty much every movie I’ve seen him in. I do like him better in non-romantic comedy movies, and I know he’s got a limited range, but he’s good at what he does. Having him play a Simon Cowell character here is absolutely brilliant, as I can’t think of anyone who could pull it off better. The rest of the cast is stacked as well, with 3 academy award nominees. The direction is fine, and the acting passable, Grant, Mandy Moore, Seth Meyers, and the Arab performer are the standouts, with everyone else kinda coasting along with not much to do except play bland cookie-cutter stereotypes. I think the reason that both of these aspects come across as mediocre, however, is because the writing is just below the quality it should be. Sure the idea and the story are interesting and relevant, but somehow, it’s not funny. There’s no jokes. No punchlines, no pratfalls, no double entendres or mistaken identities, and only a few asinine situations. The humor in a satire is supposed to come from exaggerating reality the point of ridiculousness to show our foibles. Most of this movie, however, just goes for imitation and not exaggeration. The President story is actually the least interesting, as instead of trying to come up with completely outlandish politician generalizations (dr. strangelove perfectly showed this, without having to resort to cheap imitations), they go for the tired bush/cheney imitation, with nothing new or funny to say about either. It’s as if they were conflicted between making fun of the president and humanizing him. He’s not completely stupid, just sheltered by his chief of staff, and a bit socially akward, and he barely says anything that would remotely be considered a bush-ism.
The Mandy Moore story is good, until they attempt to make a dramatic turn with her and Hugh Grant, which would actually work well in any other movie, but doesn’t seem to fit here. It’s as if they can’t decide between sweeping generalization and dedicated character examination. In fact, these are the only two characters in the entire thing that don’t play as stereotypes and have any sort of internal conflict (outside of the arab contestant, whose conscience seems entirely motivated by having us feel sympathetic for him for plot reasons).
The most interesting aspect of the entire movie, and the only one that actually could qualify as satire and not just imitation, is the show itself. The characatures are spot on, from the sassy black woman, to the Clay Aiken pretty-boy and the rocker (one of which was played by trey parker, but with as little screen time as they got, I couldn’t tell which one it was), whose song pretty much consists of variations of the phrases “I’m a rockin man”, “I like to rock”, and “I’m the real thing”. In addition, the other two finalists (aside from Mandy Moore) consist of the aforementioned arab, who’s often hilarious in his on-stage performances, and a hasidic jew who sings about getting down with the ladies. The only time that the movie really goes for a straightforward joke, it nails it. After a huge disaster happens at the show’s finale, and the technical difficulties sign comes up, it says, “The voting lines are now open”. We are shown images of people all over the world watching in shock at the events, but then picking up their phones simultaneously to vote, including the terrorists who vote via satellite phone.
Basically that’s it. The movie had promise, but without a better script it just came across as boring and for the most part, unfunny. Oh yeah, and there’s a gay arab choreographer. If something like that doesn’t get on your nerves after five minutes, this may be the movie for you. I wanted to like it, there just weren’t enough good things for me to justify myself liking it.
American Dreamz gets one and a half stars for being a movie that set itself up well, but opted not to go for many punchlines at all. The cast was game, and the direction a little confused at times, but most of that confusion falls on the writers. I was bored for at least half of it, and without any characters to root for, (because the only ones that weren’t poorly realized characatures were too self-loathing) you kinda just find yourself hoping that the movie will end soon. In “Thank You for Smoking”, the main character is more self-indifferent than self-loathing, and that’s why it’s easier to root for him, and that movie as a whole. I highly suggest that movie over this one, as it’s much smarter, deeper, and more biting.