by David Wildman & r & & r & American Dreamz & r & & r &

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n much the same way that you cannot eat your own head, you cannot have an effective parody of a parody. American Idol, the top TV program in the country, is a highly successful parody of itself. It deftly manufactures schadenfreude and still manages with a wink to make fun of its own mission to exploit the human condition. American Dreamz tries to be hilarious and incisive satire by exaggerating and drawing attention to the most absurd elements of its target. But everyone already knows American Idol sucks viewers in; consequently, American Dreamz comes off as little more than an extended exercise in cluelessness.

By design, this film is at a disadvantage. It's always more potent to watch real people humiliating themselves than it is to watch actors pretending to be real people humiliating themselves.

The film's central conflict comes off as contrived from the get-go, since there seems to be no other motivation for American Dreamz to increase its ratings than pure corporate greed. Then they throw in the oh-so-daring "crazy" stuff: Terrorists try to get an Arab contestant to blow up the studio because the president of the United States is going to make a special appearance on the show that night (another attempt to juice up the ratings). This POTUS (played by Dennis Quaid) is a way-too-obvious parody of our self-parody-of-a-president. Ho-hum. There's no easier target than the Shrub, and Quaid's portrayal of him as being just a regular guy -- nice, but not too bright -- is pretty much the image the White House is peddling these days anyway. As for the part about the terrorists, the filmmakers really missed the boat with this one. No matter how you approach it, suicide bombings are just not that funny.

It doesn't help that the characters never amount to anything more than a collection of one-dimensional clich & eacute;s. Host Martin (Hugh Grant) is a crass combination of the most superficial elements of Idol judge Simon Cowell and regular host Ryan Seacrest. The terrorists turn out to be murderous-yet-charming metrosexuals. The Arab contestant Omer (Sam Golzari) is ambiguously gay, and he gets chosen when the program's scouts see him performing Broadway show tunes (because that's the sort of thing ambiguously gay people do). There's the ruthless white-trash bitch Sally, who will do anything to beat out the competition (Mandy Moore, pretty much playing herself); and William, the bitch's doting boyfriend (Chris Klein, an American Pie hack) who gets dumped, goes to Iraq, comes back marginally wounded, and then inexplicably turns into Kevin Federline. The funniest character has almost no speaking lines: the rapping Orthodox Jew Sholem Glickstein (Adam Busch), whose music turns out to be deliciously and inanely obscene.

At first, I was more or less willing to go along with what the filmmakers were trying to pull off, until I realized that the whole thing itself had become an episode of American Idol. It's hypocritical to get all ironic and sanctimonious about our knee-jerk pop culture, when you're actually setting up the same old gimmick as American Idol: an attempt to draw us into the suspense of finding out who the big winner is going to be.

Shame on you, American Dreamz, for being more a product of the times than a comment on them. (Rated PG-13)

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