How soon is too soon? Tragedy... time to grieve... comedy. How long those ellipses are depends on a) the tragedy and b) the comedy - in particular whether the gags are meant for provocation or titillation. With World Trade Center and United 93's weighty film discourses due in September, some would argue that when it comes to suicide bombings, comedy seems a way off. But laughter heals. And stand-ups - irreverent, leftfield, intelligent - on both sides of the Atlantic have long used our screwy times to elicit wry, I-wish-I-had-the-guts-to-say-that nods. They'd be the provocation. Now comes the titillation...
Having been spurted from the gross-out brain of American Pie director Paul Weitz, American Dreamz was hardly going to be intelligent and insightful, was it? Arabs Xeroxed from a bygone, Hot Shots! Part Deux era (look, the towelheads are using TiVo!), a confused young terrorist tarting about on Pop Idol-style show American Dreamz ("Dreamz with a Zee..."), a slutty Moore's unremarkable injured boyfriend in Aye-Rack side-sob-story - Weitz is a crammer, chucking so much into his peculiarly misguided, borderline racist, ultimately toothless movie that you can't help but admire his ambition.
Yet despite all the plotlines, as with Pie, he has no time for tact or subtlety. Carry On Up The Al-Qaeda, anyone? None of which is to say that Dreamz is without its moments. From the off, Grant plays his Simon Cowell-apeing Tweed as confidently snide and self-involved. "You make me feel like being a better person, but I'm not a better person. I'm me," he tells a dumped younger lover and, ill-fitting trousers aside, it's spot-on mockery.
He's second-fiddle, though, to the double-act of Quaid's monkey-cheeked, infant-witted ("There are two types of Iraqistanis!") Bush-a-like president, and Willem Dafoe's second-in-command vice-president Sutter. Bald, white hair-tufts, hunched-over, fat, prone to paranoid "Terrorists are going to launch a major attack ending life on Earth as we know it" yelpings, he's a duck-shoot-gone-bad away from Dick Cheney. Sure, it's Neo-Con knocking for beginners but, thanks to Dafoe's smarmy malice and Quaid's blank-faced innocence, it's often laugh-out-loud funny.
The big 'however' comes during Dreamz's descent into farcical freefall, when, during the big show finale, Moore tells Klein he "shouldn't joke around" with suicide bomb rucksacks. No shit. Coming so soon after images of dirty nail-bombs; daft slapstick doesn't quite seem appropriate. Bizarrely, Weitz's message seems to be to that reality talent shows are the cure-all. People are dead! The world's fucked! The President's a muppet! And a puppet! But American Dreamz is still on! And inmates watch it at Guantanamo! Ho ho ho!
And on such ludicrousness, here ends an overly serious review of what's meant as an out-and-out comedy. But, then again, there are some things you can't be flippant about. Yet.
Misguided and yet, on occasion, funny, American Dreamz is the wrong film at the wrong time. Watch for Dafoe - be bemused by the rest.