American Dreamz (12A)

Nicholas Barber
Sunday 23 April 2006 00:00 BST

American Dreamz is the name of a top-rated TV talent show that isn't a million miles away from Pop Idol. Its soulless host (Hugh Grant), who isn't a million miles away from Simon Cowell, is attracted to one of the contestants (Mandy Moore) because she's almost as hollow and grasping as he is. Another of its contestants is a Broadway-loving Iraqi (Sam Golzari) who moved to California when he flunked out of an al-Qa'ida training camp. And, as luck would have it, the show's guest judge is the US president (Dennis Quaid), who isn't a million miles away from George W Bush. The finale of the series could be an explosive one.

Paul Weitz's comedy takes pot shots at so many satirical targets that it's bound to miss a few of them. Its most propitious storyline, for instance, has the Texan, Bible-bashing, ex-alcoholic president deciding one day to read the newspapers and find out what's actually going on in the world, much to the annoyance of a vice president (Willem Dafoe) who's used to telling him what to think and what to say. But having set up this storyline, Weitz puts it to one side, as if he's realised how difficult it would be to weave Mr Smith Goes To Washington, The Manchurian Candidate, To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous into one movie.

Still, if American Dreamz doesn't quite come together, it's more rewarding than lots of films that do. Like an episode of The Simpsons directed by Robert Altman, it's a smart, cynical sprawl which ensures you're never far from a monstrous character or a bitchy line. "Get me some contestants who are human," Grant instructs his lackeys at the start. "And by human I mean flawed. And by flawed I mean freaks."

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