By: Michael Ward
Sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past. In 1999, American Pie was innovative and groundbreaking comedy; balancing shocking and jaw-dropping comedic moments with a surprising and refreshing self-deprecating humor about itself. While the ensemble of young actors were largely unknown at the time, audiences related to the anxieties depicted on screen, the insecurities of self-esteem and status in the shark tank of high school, and the constant wonder of experiencing “that first time.”
The juggernaut that was American Pie naturally led to American Pie 2, which was a repetitive and mostly enjoyable follow up, and then everything crashed and burned with the half-hearted and mandated American Wedding. Chris Klein, who plays Chris “Oz” Ostreicher in these films, did not even take part in the Wedding, and despite $750 million grossed worldwide from the American Pie trilogy, everyone closed that chapter of their lives and moved on to new projects. Except Eugene Levy. Levy reprised his endearing role as Mr. Levenstein, father to his well-intentioned but constantly embarrassing son Jim (Jason Biggs) in four straight-to-video sequels to the American Pie franchise. Was Jason Biggs in those films? Absolutely not, but there was Levy, on set and amenable to anything the filmmakers wanted him to do. By appearing in the new American Reunion, he has now appeared in all eight (?!?!) of these films. Yes, technically, there are eight of these films now.
Almost a decade has passed since these characters were last, and mostly, together and in storyline, 13 years have passed since all of these characters graduated high school. Behind-the-scenes, that also means a lot of once promising, but failed film careers exist amongst this cast. These American Pie films have seen a decent amount of retention in the years since they were playing theaters, but in all honesty, it is not like anyone was clamoring for this franchise to be brought back.
Well, except for Jason Biggs. Chris Klein. Eddie Kaye Thomas. Thomas Ian Nicholas. Mena Suvari. Tara Reid. Natasha Lyonne. Shannon Elizabeth. That kid who plays “The Sherminator.” They need this…bad.
Only Alyson Hannigan (“How I Met Your Mother”), Seann William Scott (a steady stream of movie roles including the new “Goon”), Jennifer Coolidge (an unending stream of TV and film appearances), perhaps John Cho (Harold from the “Harold and Kumar” franchise), and the ubiquitous Eugene Levy have all successfully springboarded from these films and had sustainable careers.
Yeah, I guess I can see why this is back after all.
In American Reunion, the 1999 graduates are having their 13-year reunion, as apparently there was never a 10-year. Jim and Michelle (Hannigan) are married with a 2-year old son, who has essentially ended their sex life together. Oz (Klein) has a barely legal supermodel girlfriend, Mia (Katrina Bowden), who compliments his celebrity as a high profile sports anchor and castoff dancing celebrity show participant. Finch (Thomas) has not been heard from in years and Kevin (Nicholas) is married, an architect, primarily working from home, who enjoys watching reality TV and shows like “Gossip Girl” with his wife every night. Stifler is still Stifler, but at the behest of his mother (Coolidge), Stifler has a new temp job working in a brokerage firm.
So there you go. The premise is simple and the film does manage to pull virtually everyone back from the first two American Pie films and give them safe haven for approximately 110 minutes or so. The chemistry these guys share is undeniable and for a little while, it is easy to like the comfortable manner in which everyone interacts and reconnects. Rather quickly though, the screenplay by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (writers of the “Harold and Kumar” series) misfires and sputters, refurbishing old scenes and set-ups for a new audience. Jim may be naked in the kitchen again, but this time, nothing is left to nuance or insinuation.
Like the careers of many of those who appear in this film, American Reunion seems desperate and hungry; hungry to find a spark that will either kickstart these characters into a new series of misadventures and wackiness, or provide the actors in the cast with one last shot at A-list fame and glory. Much like high school reunions, or the experience of many of my friends who have attended them, within a few minutes the awkwardness of years’ past resurfaces, the grandstanding and exaggerations come into play, and everyone drowns the escalating uncomfortableness of it all with alcohol. In this regard, American Reunion may work much better than I give it credit for. However, like a spouse or partner attending a reunion with people they have never met before, this all wears really, really thin and quickly becomes a menacing bore.
There are moments that work here. Seann William Scott’s Stifler makes the full circle back to the likable deviant he was in the first film and in several moments, Scott steals this film away from his counterparts, for better or worse. Eugene Levy is always a welcome site, embodying Jim’s dad again with kindness and warmth, despite being saddled with a ridiculous montage, and one thankless scene over the end credits. And sure, as a fan of the first film and most of the second film, I enjoyed having the chance to see everyone return and appear together one more (last?) time.
I recognize that American Reunion is intended to be, and rightfully so, a ribald and raunchy comedy. In retrospect, the intangibles that set American Pie apart as something different and unique, and what all the sequels and knockoff wannabes fail to recognize, is that at its core, American Pie was genuine, real, and relatable to virtually everyone. No, we likely never had intimacy with a freshly baked apple pie, but we also never quite knew where we stood in our cliques and social circles and American Pie captured that uneasiness extremely well. The uncertainty of coming-of-age responsibly and the constant fear or ridicule and need for acceptance spoke to a great number of viewers.
So it is with great disappointment that I report that nothing that made the first film great is brought back here. The female characters are relegated to either taking a backseat completely to the male characters, or, when given the spotlight, are depicted as nothing more than vapid, sexually-starved beings who live on a diet of alcohol and sex. This is not every female found in the film, but true for those who are put front and center for any considerable time. The screenplay is a huge letdown and as a result, American Reunion fails to click in almost every conceivable way.
I wanted this to work. I wanted lightning to be recaptured in that 1999 bottle all over again. At the end of the day, American Reunion is about as honest and entertaining a film as the guy or girl who returns to your class reunion and tells amazing stories of traveling the world, experiencing extraordinary adventures, namedropping famous people, while drenched in a choking stench of overpriced cologne or perfume. Within minutes, you see right through them and share in the breathing in of their desperation, anxiety, fear, and sadness. As a matter of fact, American Reunion nails that experience perfectly.
The entire gang from the original ‘American Pie’ (and most of the two theatrical sequels) are back to relive the glory days in the aptly titled ‘American Reunion’. This is the type of sequel that really only is catering to fans of the trilogy, but when it comes to making them happy, this is a successful flick. When trying to be a stand alone comedy, however, it falters more than a little. In fact, the best moments are actually the more dramatic ones. Writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (the minds behind the ‘Harold and Kumar’ franchise) are almost writing fan fiction here, and it’s mostly only effective as such. It’s not a bad film when removed from its chief quality (that being the desire to see where the guys and girls are now), but it’s certainly not nearly as enjoyable a film in that regard. Honestly though, how many people who aren’t fans of the franchise are going to even bother with this movie? It’s designed to please those who care what Jim, Michelle, Kevin, Finch, Oz, Stifler, and of course Jim’s Dad are up to. Count me in as one of the many who were pleased by this supposedly final slice of the pie. It’s not perfect, but I definitely liked it for what it was…
It’s a really thin plot on display here, mostly an excuse for cameos from everyone in the franchise. We’re now a number of years on from when we last saw these characters, and life is more than a little bit different. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) now have a young son, and their sex life is suffering because of it. Oz (Chris Klein) is a successful sportscaster and reality star out in L.A., but seems to still long for the old days despite dating a model (Katrina Bowden). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is essentially a house-husband, and again plans to make some time with the boys a time to remember. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is roaming the world, and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still, well…being Stifler. They all get back together for their high school reunion, and run into all of their old friends as well, including Heather (Mena Suvari), Vicky (Tara Reid), Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy), and even Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), plus pretty much every other supporting character you remember fondly. The standard franchise raunchy jokes and mishaps proceed to occur, but there’s more than a little bit of melancholy (not to mention nostalgia) to the acts, as these friends realize that the past is the past, and they’re all adults now. Friendship trumps all though, as does love, and we leave the characters in a very nice place.
All of the actors and actresses here (with the exception of a few newcomers) have essayed these characters between 3 and 4 times now, so it’s like putting on a comfortable old glove to them. Jason Biggs is his awkward self, Alyson Hannigan brings a tad more maturity to her sex-crazed band geek role, and the likes of Chris Klein, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid haven’t changed a bit. Seann William Scott actually gives the best performance in the film, showing actually growth for Stifler. Also, as usual Eugene Levy is a hoot, and you know what to expect from Jennifer Coolidge. The newcomers include Katrina Bowden as Oz’s girlfriend, Dania Ramirez as a hot former nerd, Jay Harrington as Heather’s doctor beau, and Ali Cobrin as the grown up and horny girl that Jim used to babysit. No one is winning an Oscar here, but they all do there jobs nicely. The success of the film is that you like all of these characters and want them to be happy (yes, even Stifler), and the performances are part of that success, even if they’re not the type of acting jobs you get too excited about.
Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg no doubt love these characters, but perhaps that prevented them from doing as good a job here as they could have. The direction is fine, if a bit simple, but the writing lacks a certain comic punch to it. Granted, the original film was really edgy for its time, but this latest flick seems a bit on the safe side overall. Some of the gags are funny, but more than a few fall a bit flat. Ironically, the way they handle the drama is better, especially when Jim and his dad talk about the passing of his mother/his wife. Hurwitz and Schlossberg don’t hurt the material at all, but they hardly elevate it.
As someone who liked all of the previous films, it isn’t hard for me to recommend ‘American Reunion’ to those who feel the same way. To those who don’t, well…it’s likely to not be as effective for you. As it stands, this is an enjoyable flick that likely won’t be remembered much after you see it. That’s not necessarily the end of the world, but just keep it in mind. This is a solid movie, and I had a good time with it, but it’s hardly an amazing film.
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