American Dreamz Paul Weitz

On the Saturday Night Live paved road to parodying American Idol and the Bush administration, there are at least some large, soft targets that you can hit for easy points before you start reaching for more precise surgical strikes. But American Dreamz — the film written and directed by American Pie and About A Boy co-director Paul Weitz, this time without his brother Chris — not only doesn’t aspire to any serious satire, it doesn’t even get the really easy stuff right.

The targets are as soft as they come — cynical British TV producer Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) is bored with hosting the biggest show on television, a singing competition. He’s tired of ambitious, knowing manipulators like Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), even though he actually admires and is attracted to her; to spice up the show, he wants an Arabic contestant (and a Hasidic Jew for good measure). Through some ill-conceived and unnecessary froufrou, an Iraqi terrorist lands in the U.S. as a sleeper agent and ends up as a contestant.

Meanwhile, a second term U.S. President facing an unpopular war in Iraq decides to appear on the show as a guest judge in order to boost his approval rating. Add to this stew Sally Kendoo’s wounded veteran boyfriend (Chris Klein) and the President’s manipulative chief of staff (Willem Dafoe doing Dick Cheney), and the result is a ridiculous mess of a movie.

There’s got to be a good film in there somewhere, but it’s buried under some terrible blunders of plotting, storytelling and a complete lack of satirical balls. The film can’t decide between targeting Idol, the war or celebrity culture and ends up doing none effectively. The storytelling is fatally segmented and just as the film begins to gain some momentum — occasionally Moore and Grant seem to think they’re in a completely different movie, the one I actually want to see — it derails with another tangential sideline.

American Dreamz is a disaster of missed opportunities and an ill-conceived farce; if you can’t even manage to equal a second-half-of-the-show Saturday Night Live sketch, your parody license is revoked. (Universal)