STARZ IN THEIR EYES

 

REVIEWED - AMERICAN DREAMZ: If you were to compile a list of contemporary American phenomena worth satirising, you might very well include the war on terror, the verbal infelicities of George Bush and the naked ambition that drives the contestants of American Idol.

Were you of a puritanical bent, you might also find space for that strain of broad high-school humour showcased in the American Pie films of Chris and Paul Weitz.

The latter of those two directors has left himself and his brother out of his startlingly wide-ranging assault on modern idiocies. Everything else makes it in. With that in mind, we should not be surprised that not all of American Dreamz comes off. That so much of it does work is, however, some sort of minor miracle.

The film's four main stories weave and twist themselves round a pitch-perfect satire of American Idol named, yes, American Dreamz ("Dreamz with a z," Mandy Moore's gleaming contestant warbles.) Hugh Grant, whose turn as the show's host further confirms his credentials as a good sport, comes over less prissy than Simon Cowell, but, like that high-belted fishwife, appears to have been marinated in his own oily pomposity until his skin glistens.

As the new series begins, the President of the US (Dennis Quaid), a stupid man with a penchant for the iconography of the west, suddenly realises that he has slept through his first term and elects to spend the beginning of his second reading the papers. Seeking to correct the negative publicity that results, his chief of staff (Willem Dafoe), a sinister bald man who actually runs the White House, comes up with the bright idea of putting the commander-in-chief forward as a guest judge on American Dreamz.

Two contestants emerge as the favourites. Young Ms Moore (showing, like Grant, a welcome enthusiasm for rubbishing her own public persona) plays a horribly pushy middle-class kid, happy to pretend to be white-trash to further her ambitions. Sam Golzari turns up as a Muslim who, though adopted by the public as a jolly mascot, is, in fact, a terrorist planning to kill the president with a suicide bomb.

Phew! Put simply, the fusillades launched at all-American vulgarities hit their targets consistently, while the attempts to engage with peculiar foreign concepts tend to end unhappily. Quaid is excellent as a nice moron promoted way beyond his abilities. Moore manages the tricky business of being sugar-sweet and ruthlessly savage in equal measure. The portrayal of Muslims - either mad terrorists or brash shopaholics - may, however, enrage more than a few Arab groups throughout the world.

Still, it is gratifying to come across a mainstream film that seems happy to risk offending so many different groups. And, best of all, Weitz bravely declines to chicken out and give us a cosy ending.

On balance, a good performance, Paul. We'd like to see you back next week. Donald Clarke