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Slumbering satire in sour 'Dreamz'

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The time is certainly ripe for a scathing black comedy about our current political life - something on the order of, say, "Dr. Strangelove." Alas, "American Dreamz" is not that film. Not even close.

Hugh Grant plays the appropriately named Martin Tweed, the unctuous British host of the "American Idol"-ish smash, "American Dreamz." Tweed's face is creased in a perpetual smirk; he wears his self-loathing, which is indistinguishable from self-satisfaction, like a lizard skin.

His counterpart is Dennis Quaid's President Staton, who has just won reelection. For the first time in four years, he decides to read the newspaper, an act which tailspins him into a depressive funk. He sits around all day in his pajamas until his chief of staff (a baldpated Willem Dafoe, looking like Dick Cheney) comes up with the brainstorm of booking Staton as a guest judge on the president's favorite TV show - you guessed it, "American Dreamz."

This is just the beginning. Writer-director Paul Weitz ("American Pie," "About a Boy") is by no means without talent, but his reach far exceeds his grasp here. If he had kept the film focused on Tweed and the president, he might have scored a few lampoonish moments. But he also works in a pair of competing "American Dreamz" hopefuls, the gimlet-eyed Midwestern crooner Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) and Omer (Sam Galzari), an Arab terrorist recruit with a taste for show tunes. Omer's sleeper cell has plans to assassinate Staton on the studio set.

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