First, a confession: I have never seen even one episode of "American Idol." Second, for the purposes of this film it doesn't matter. "American Dreamz," while in part a deconstruction, if that's not too strong a word, of the big TV bopper, has more interesting targets in mind, and for the most part it hits them.
Writer-director Paul Weitz, who with his brother Chris made "American Pie" and "About a Boy," along with a few less memorable bits of fluff, has made "American Dreamz" by himself. It's four parallel stories: first, the story of sleazy show host Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), who's looking for new and different show talent for this year's version of "AD." Second, it's the story of Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) of small-town Ohio, who dreams of singing on "Dreamz." Third, it's the story of Omer (Sam Golzari), a, well, Middle-Easterner is as close as we get, who loves to sing American songs but is also being groomed to be a sleeper suicide bomber; and fourth, it's the story of American president Staton (Dennis Quaid), a lazy ignoramus who's under the control of his chief of staff Willem Dafoe. Any similarities to our current president are strictly intended. And how they all come together is the burden, as we say, of the film.
And Weitz does make them come together, without too many seams showing, in a climax that's the setting for one priceless, classic visual gag that I will not give away here but is almost worth the price of admission all by itself. What problems the film has come earlier, as Weitz tries to shoehorn in more backstories and complications than the film really needs. Sally has a boyfriend (Chris Klein) who joins the army and is wounded on his first day in Iraq, with a bullet right through the tattoo he's had put on of Sally. Omer, who's a failure as a terrorist trainee, is sent to his uncle in Orange County and told to wait for instructions, where he finds his gay cousin Iqbal (Tony Yalda) even more consumed with American show songs and his own dream of being on the show. And President Staton, normally so docile, decides one day that it's time he started reading the papers and learning about the real world.
The climax, of course, comes when they all meet at the grand season finale of "American Dreamz" - Omer to blow up the president, who's the guest judge of the finalists, while singing his song on the show; Sally, who's just boinked Martin in her dressing room and could be the favorite to win; Martin, who's sick of the whole show; and Staton, who's starting to get excited by the real world again.
The film shows the choppy effect of an overly busy script, and for some reason - a bad skin condition? - Mandy Moore has what appears to be a baked-on layer of orange makeup all over her face and body. But once we get past those impediments, "American Dreamz" is good fun.