April 4th, 2012

Review: 5/10 Can of Whoop Ass


American Reunion


            I’m not sure there was much of a clamor to bring back the American Pie franchise.  In fact, there seems to be practically zero nostalgia for the teenage romps of the Y2K era.  I don’t hear people referencing American Pie often and I don’t see the films reappearing on TV like other comedies of old.  For my generation, Wedding Crashers and Old School were much more influential in terms of defining new age comedy, relying on clever dialogue and hipster heroes in lieu of slapstick or sexual tomfoolery.  In addition, American Pie was a victim of its own ambition, as it routinely failed in its attempts to capitalize on the success of the first couple movies.  American Wedding was a clichéd, pathetic attempt to move high school hijinks into the adult realm and those straight-to-DVD B-movies (Band Camp, The Naked Mile, Beta House, The Book of Love) couldn’t get a laugh from an idiot.  That being said, American Pie is property of my generation, and we, more than any other generation of filmgoers, love our sequels.  We tend to take care of the things that were once representative of us.  American Pie, for all of its inadequacies, was a purely American comedy: with its emphasis on identity, love, and inebriated joy.  Once the trailers for American Reunion became public, most people I know were interested to see it.  This was not, I think, because the original movies were so good or that anyone loved the characters all that much, but rather because for people in their 20s and 30s, this was THE movie of our childhood.  It was an adult movie intended for kids.  The sense of naughtiness we all felt watching it back then made the viewing experience at best special, at worst memorable.  The newest installment is nothing different from the earlier installments in the franchise, in that it isn’t all that original or clever or funny, but it has a sort of sentimentality for its own past that is endearing at times.  Time has moved on for us all, both audience and actors alike, and the best thing that could be said for American Reunion is that it recognizes its position – even if that position is only one of homage to the past.

            The plot of American Reunion is as bald-faced as its title.  The class of ’99 is coming back to Great Falls for a high school reunion, which is inexplicably held 13 years after their graduation.  After very little screen time, all the characters reassemble and we get a glimpse into how things turned out for everyone.  Jim (Jason Biggs) is now a father, but he seems bored with his life.  Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols) is a devoted husband, but is irritated by his “housewife” status.  Oz (Chris Klein) is a sports analyst who lives in a beautiful house with a beautiful girlfriend, yet it is obvious he finds his fast-paced lifestyle a little off-putting.  Stifler (Sean William Scott) is working as a temp at an investment firm, on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder.  Seemingly only Finch (Eddie Thomas) has found a life path he is satisfied with, spending his time traveling all over the world.  When the group gets back together in their hometown a few days before the reunion, most have come in an effort to recapture their youth.  The alcohol comes out.  The babes are found.  The parties begin.

            The movie ends up failing in all the same familiar places.  Primarily, most of the plot could have been doodled by a four year old.  The introductions of old characters are always WAY too convenient.  Heather (Mena Suvari) just happens to be strolling down the beach at JUST the right moment for Oz to get a look at his old girlfriend and moments after, Vicki (Tara Reid) similarly pops up to ambush Kevin.  Later, at the actual reunion, the old characters stream forward like zombies returning from the dead.  First there’s Jessica, then Sherminator, then Nadia…to the point that each cameo is rendered equally meaningless.  There’s no effort made to incorporate any of these people in logical ways, they just show up whenever is easiest.  It’s lazy story telling of the highest order.  The scenes themselves were also crafted poorly.  After a night of heavy drinking, Jim wakes up on the kitchen floor without any pants.  Where are Jim’s pants?  Why are they off?  I’m not sure.  The film just needed Jim without any pants on to get its obligatory cock shot.  We get to see Jim’s penis, though I’m not sure why.

            Another huge problem with the script is how many characters are being serviced.  The plot, which should be a simple vehicle by which to offer some amusement, pulls us in every which way, bouncing from relationship to relationship, problem to problem.  And the characters they pull us towards are shallow and uninteresting.  Kevin is married, but that’s all we know of him.  Oz is dissatisfied, but it isn’t clear why.  I ended up not caring about any of the ancillary characters because their problems and motivations just kind of blurred together into an indifferent heap.  The scenes where the group is all together are particularly stale, not just owing to the wooden acting, but because of the eerie sense I got that the actors weren't comfortable with each other.  There’s too much smiling and formal speaking and not enough casual camaraderie.

Jim remains the emotional center of the film.  His hapless attempts to be cool and get his act together are the driving force of the movie, as it was the driving force of the original American Pie and the sequels that followed.  In this sense, each movie is a signpost of Jim’s development, from high school naivety with sex (Part One), to the directionless days of college (Part Two), to the maturation of marriage (Part Three), on to fatherhood and married life in American Reunion, where things seem stalled.  And the most memorable scenes are Jim’s one-on-one talks with his dad (Eugene Levy).  Levy deserves particular credit for the American Pie franchise, as he was the only one to tough it out through all those miserable sequels and spin-offs.  He delivers the funniest moments of the film, particularly when he lets loose at his first Stifler party.  His intimate moments with Biggs are as close as the film comes to actual truth.  Their conversations are awkward and painful to watch, but also poignant and sincere.  It’s just two good guys trying to make sense out of a world that has them overmatched.  The way they talk over each other and scramble through embarrassing confessions is funny, but also enlightening.  We laugh at their awkwardness, but do we take the time to talk with our parents about things as truthfully as they do?

When the film slows itself down, it gains clarity, and becomes genuinely entertaining.  Consider Stifler.  For the first half of the movie, while the film hurtles us along from scene to scene, he seems like a caricature, not a real human being.  For the first time, I did something I thought I’d never do: I felt bad for Steve Stifler.  He laughs and swears and laughs and swears.  There isn’t much more to him.  He was more annoying than amusing.  But after his realization of how lame an adult party actual is, let alone one thrown by him, Stifler faces a moment of truth and reconsiders things.  From there on out, Stifler steals every scene he’s in.  Toning down his absurdities makes the surfacing of those absurdities much more appreciated.

            For all its failures, American Reunion does capitalize on some of its possibilities.  Levy as widower is hilarious.  The Milf Guy gets an expanded role, utilizing the success of John Cho, who came to fame post-American Pie with the Harold and Kumar films.  Plus, the script toys with the idea of Stifler finally getting some revenge for the infamous Finch/Stilfer’s Mom fiasco.  Still, I’m not sure how funny this movie really is.  If it had to stand alone, unsupported by the knowledge of the preexisting movies, I’m not sure I would have laughed more than a handful of times.  The writing stinks.  The actors stink (it’s no surprise that the VAST majority of actors from the original film never accomplished anything but moderate success in their acting careers).  But, as a part of our collective childhood, we owe something to American Pie.  It gave us MILF, it answered the question What ever happened to Henry Rowengartner?, and gave us characters that were just as confused about sex and life as we were.  You will not hate this movie.  If you’re like me, your memory won’t let you.