Wednesday, April 18, 2012

American Reunion Movie Review

Their careers long on the wane, their faces puffier and showing the first signs of aging, the original gang from American Pie and American Pie 2 is back together for a sequel that no one was really clamoring for. They’ve been brought together in the past by the end of high school prom, summer after first year at college and a wedding. Now in American Reunion, the title denotes not only the high school event during which the guys hope to get a final taste of the lost youth and freedom they haven’t experienced for a long time, but also the gathering of one-time hot young actors for a film that could be better considered as a “Where Are They Now” documentary.


Writer Adam Herz has already graduated from the series after penning the first three. He’s been replaced by Harold & Kumar scribes Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who also directed. They’ve retained the basic American Pie structure right down to the lunatic opening that involves a sexual debacle. As always, it involves Jim (Jason Biggs), who is still married to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). The presence of their two-year-old has rendered their sex life a little bit stagnant so Jim waits until Michelle is in the bath to partake of one of the Internet’s greatest pleasures. There are winks at his past problems when he squeezes a tube of lubricant into a tube sock and is soon interrupted by his son. A shocking discovery in the bathroom finishes off the madcap shocker of an opening which felt much more rote than shocking. I’ll be honest when I say I went into American Reunion with the hopes that the magic I loved in the first two films would be recaptured, if only for a few moments, but I didn’t even chuckle during the opening. Even the packed audience around me seemed to be laughing more out of obligation than genuine hysteria.

They return to East Great Falls together and there’s a warm welcome by Mr. Levenstein (Eugene Levy), who has been lonely since his wife’s death three years earlier. Trouble begins brewing almost immediately when Jim is greeted by Kara (Ali Cobrin), the girl next door, whom he used to babysit. All grown up and turning 18 tomorrow (can you believe it!), she shows more than a passing interest in his arrival in town.

Jim is joined later by his old friends. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is now married, domesticated and a bit emasculated as he and his wife gear up for “The Bachelorette” and “Gossip Girl.” Oz has a sports talk show on an ESPN knock-off station. Now he’s a C-list celebrity best remembered for an appearance on a “Dancing With the Stars” knock-off. His super-model girlfriend talks about Mario Lopez, a B-list celeb who appeared on the real “Dancing With the Stars.” Stifler (Sean William Scott) still hasn’t left their hometown. He’s introduced parading his way through the office where he works as if it’s one of his old house parties. He preens and struts until he’s cut down by his boss, who reveals to us that Stifler is only a temp – a filing and coffee bitch at best. Stifler, as if you couldn’t have guessed, still behaves like he’s in high school. Like his year book quote says, he wants to keep partying with his boys, but he can’t quite reconcile that everyone has jobs, spouses and babies. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), ever the mystery man, has been AWOL, but turns up speeding in with motorbike and leather jacket.

Hanging out at the beach, they endure the sting and humiliation of being the older and more mature adults who can’t believe how ridiculous the teenagers are. An altercation with a group of youths, one of whom is just a younger version of Stifler, prompts a revenge scenario that is by turns revolting, dangerous and criminal. But we’re expected to laugh so long as no one gets really hurt. What endeared me to these guys before was that their antics brought embarrassment upon themselves. Now it’s outwardly directed and has the potential to cause harm to others. That way lies tragedy, not comedy.

As usual, everyone gets together at Stifler’s house for a big blowout bash before the reunion proper. Stifler is aghast to find that people would be drinking wine and that his music choice has been replaced by something soft and instrumental for the sake of the children that some people have brought along. He’s also shocked to find some of his old lacrosse buddies are actually gay (being gay is Hurwitz and Schlossberg’s rather lazy shorthand, used once too many times, for indicating that people don’t turn out how you once thought). Jim has brought his dad to the party after giving him a bit of a makeover. He wanders upstairs and Jim’s dad gets to meet Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge). Vicky shows up and her binary facial expressions and wooden line delivery remind us why Tara Reid has been more famous for her cosmetic surgery and nipple slips than for her film career. Heather (Mena Suvari) turns up also. She’s a doctor now and brings along her pompous cardiologist of a boyfriend. Later in the film, the more minor characters like Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), Sherman, Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), and the MILF guys (John Cho and the other guy, who aren’t given character names and are actually referred to as ‘MILF guys’) turn up just so you can say, “Ah, I remember.”

The film is at its best in the second half (ignoring the obligatory simple-misunderstanding-that-makes-the-woman-angry-at-the-man-and-could-be-resolved-with-a-single-line-of-dialogue…times 3) when it slows down a little and allows time for the characters to ruminate on getting older, maturing and doing adult things. Like the earlier films, the scenes between Jim and his dad bring a lot of the heart. They share some important conversations that, while tinged with awkward humor, actually reveal sage advice and hints at real character development. Eugene Levy also happens to provide the films funniest moments by virtue of his great improvisational abilities. There’s nary a false note emanating from his body and voice, even as he flirts with Stifler’s mom while they get stoned together. This is followed by a hilarious runaway paranoia moment.


MINOR SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH: The first half feels like Hurwitz and Schlossberg were desperate to make an American Pie film and got caught up trying to reproduce the raunch-fest. There are few real laughs to be had. Whether that’s because I’ve gotten older and more mature myself or because the real spirit of the comedy has been lost I can’t say for sure. My guess is that the high school and college crowd will enjoy it. But there’s something a little embarrassing about watching Stifler act like a 12-year old. He was immature for his age as a high-schooler and he hasn’t really changed a bit. That said, I did find myself laughing more often at his lines than anyone else’s. Always the guy who drinks unfortunate concoctions or gets peed on, I will say, without spoiling too much, that he gets a lovely bit of payback involving an appearance by Rebecca DeMornay, who makes a lovely MILF herself.

I have to confess to laughing occasionally, but certainly not nearly as much as I did both 11 and 13 years ago. It may be a slight improvement over American Wedding which I found pretty abysmal, but that’s not to sing the film’s praises. I’m not sorry I saw it and don’t consider it a waste of my time, but I could have lived the rest of my life without another story featuring these characters.

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