Saturday, April 28, 2012

Attention, Class of 1999

If anything, American Pie was everyone's coming of age story, no pun intended. Released back in 1999, the grandaddy of today's R-rated comedies took an honest, if perhaps exaggerated, look at what it meant to be an American teenager in an epic quest to lose his virginity. A modern-day Porky's, American Pie succeeded in recapturing that ideal, and while it spawned two sequels in short order, there was really nothing that could be done in American Pie 2 or American Wedding that could reenact the sense of perfection of the first. Still, not knowing how to leave well enough alone, Hollywood has turned out yet another sequel to the franchise. At least this time they managed to make it a natural progression of the story we have so far; American Reunion takes brings us an update twelve years after those teenagers graduated high school, and like our own high school reunions we get to see what these characters have done with their lives, for good or ill. Despite the film series having not been seen heard of since 2003 (I'm not counting the straight-to-video spin-offs), this film looked to hopefully be something special, as it would feature every major character from the franchise, from Jim's Dad to Stifler's Mom and back again.

A decade later, and they're all grown up!
It's been nine years since the wedding of Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), and the perpetual man-child now has a two year-old son of his own. However, Jim and Michelle are in a sexual rut, and they hope the upcoming reunion will allow them some alone time to rekindle their relationship. Everyone looks to be returning home for the reunion, and everyone has gained in years and responsibility. Oz (Chris Klein) is a sportscaster and former celebrity dance competitor living with supermodel girlfriend Mia (Katrina Bowden). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is married and works as an architect out of his home. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth. And foul-mouthed Stifler (Sean William Scott) is working as a temp at an investment agency. As the five men reunite, they embark on an adventure that involves a high school beach party, alcohol, threats of infidelity, the police, and of course, sex.

Jim's Dad gives this film one thumb up.
They really did pull everyone in to make this film. Returning are many people you haven't seen on a big screen for years, and a few that are known to most people for their television exploits. That the only primary members of the extra large-sized cast who get regular work nowadays are Hannigan and Scott is telling, as most of these actors either lack the talent or looks (or in some cases, self control) to make it as serious performers. Of course, those two are also the film's biggest talents, besides perhaps the affably reliable Eugene Levy as Jim's wise-yet-goofy father. Biggs himself hasn't been in anything you've seen since American Wedding, and looks exactly the same as he did when he was playing an eighteen-year-old. His talent hasn't grown either, and it definitely appears that he plateaued with American Pie. Chris Klein retains that "Oh Gawrsh" appeal that made his early roles like that in Election so appealing. It's too bad most of the rest of his work makes him look like a cross between David Caruso and Nicolas Cage. This movie puts him comfortably back in the spot of "genuine nice guy" which, considering that's probably what he's like in real life, isn't much of a stretch. Thomas and Nicholas are fine, but just that: fine. Nothing more to go on, there. The ladies aren't much better (again, with the exception of Hannigan), and it's the newcomers who manage to outshine the returning Mena Suvari and Tara Reid (who keeps her clothes on more effectively in the movies than she does on the red carpet). Katrina Bowden goes a good job in her appearance as Oz's promiscuous model girlfriend, while Dania Ramirez wows as a formerly ugly duckling who certainly has gotten better with age. Ali Cobrin might not be the best of the bunch but puts it all out there in what amounts to this film's interpretation of Shannon Elizabeth (who proves she's still desirable in a small cameo). Still, the extensive cast, complete with your favorite bit players, are all back, and as that's probably your main reason for seeing this movie, it just might be enough.

Over a decade later... still a dork...
Unfortunately, there's not much that's sexy when it comes to yet another American Pie sequel. Maybe I'm just getting old, but seeing these supposedly matured characters acting pretty much exactly as they did a dozen years ago feels more than a little unrealistic. Jim gets overly nervous in just about every situation, resulting in insanely awkward situations. Stifler's still an asshole whose only redeeming value is that he has no redeeming value. Finch is still an elitist snob. There's barely any sense that ANYTHING of monumental importance has happened to these people in the past twelve years, despite external evidence to the contrary. That's what makes the whole thing less-than-fulfilling, that it teases you with change while leaving everything exactly as you last left it.

Guess which one's married? Go on, guess!
Another thing lacking in this comedy is the... comedy! Rarely did the film do anything in nearly two hours that was remotely funny, and while the movie's antics did occasionally make you cringe, there is hardly any payoff in serious laughs. While most of American Reunion tries to limit its humor to relatively believable situations, it's only when the film veers into insane territory that I found myself laughing at the jokes. Whatever connection the franchise had to me in its earlier iterations was gone; instead or revisiting a shade of my own life, I was treated to the newest Bad Teacher, and you know how highly I thought of THAT particular title. American Reunion tries make it up by actually (GASP!) developing its characters, but this is far too little, and doesn't make up for the fact that there's never a moment where you find yourself laughing without the ability to stop, a la Cabin in the Woods. Considering that this film is from Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the guys who brought us the rip-roaring Harold & Kumar flicks, it is a big and disappointing surprise indeed (again, pun not intended).

They're not QUITE creepy old men yet, but getting there.
But in the end, the real crime of American Reunion is its inability to accept change while attempting to force it upon the characters we loved twelve years ago. Note the past tense. The truth is that most people were quite happy to see the franchise end with American Wedding in 2003, and thankfully Reunion carries a real feeling of final closure, rather than the beginning of a new trilogy, which is what Scream 4 was going for at this same time last year. It's a good thing American Reunion looks to be The End, because I'm quite certain I've had my fill of goofy Jim, honest Oz and asshole Stifler to last a lifetime. Some things deserve to be left in the past, and the American Pie franchise, despite its heart and honest attempt at telling our tale, is one of those.

1 comment:

julesrules3114 said...

I loved the line, "...and Jim gets overly nervous in every situation, leading to more awkwardness..."
For some reason that cracked me up, because it's so true, in every film in this franchise.

They should have had a scene where he get's caught sodomizing the Thanksgiving turkey, in the spirit of the old film:




" said...i was basting the turkey...i..."