Monday, April 2, 2012

From My Collection: American Pie 2 Movie Review

I’ll usually be the first one to rail against sequels that are nothing more than a retread of the first film. These films are cynical ploys to earn more money using the same formula a second or third time. And of course audiences tend to fall for it every time. This is especially true in the comedy genre: take a group of people in a comedic scenario, have them do funny things, wash, rinse, repeat. Then take the same group and put them in a slightly different scenario to repeat similar gags. I did not find this to be the case with American Pie 2.

I think the success of the writing and the comedy gags in this sequel are the result of the good writing of character and story in the first film. The gang of four friends (Jason Biggs as Jim, Thomas Ian Nicholas as Kevin, Eddie Kaye Thomas as Finch and Chris Klein as Oz) had real character traits and strong relationships and the funny things that happened to them (mainly Jim) were the result of their own miscalculated decisions and not set up in the mean-spirited way of most other comedies. All those things continued to be true in the second film with the added pleasure that the relationships got stronger and the characters more mature (except maybe Stifler, who would have to wait until the dismal American Wedding to outgrow his pre-adolescent personality). American Pie 2 picks up with the boys at the end of their freshman year at college as they’re coming back home to Great Falls and trying to figure out how to make it their best summer ever as they prepare for the inevitable separation from friends that comes with growing up and moving on.

After parties at Stifler’s house get shut down by the police, the gang of four plus Stifler (Seann William Scott) move to a house on Lake Michigan, paid for by a summer job painting houses, with the intention of having a big blowout party to cap off an amazing summer. All of this is suggested by Kevin’s brother (Casey Affleck reprising his role as the older and wiser sibling), who had a similar summer after his first year of college. Once again the four guys all have a goal in mind: Oz awaits the return of girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari) from a summer abroad in Barcelona; Finch continues to pine for Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge), whom he believes will turn up at the party; Jim awaits Nadia’s (Shannon Elizabeth) arrival at the end of the summer; and Kevin thinks somehow that he and Vicki (Tara Reid) will get back together so he can keep living in the past. Of course there is a certain formula adhered to and repeated from AmericanPie in the sense that we’ve got the same group of people partying together and everyone gearing up for the big blowout at the end. While in the former film sex after prom was the end goal, in this case it’s several different goals all centered on a big party that brings everyone together.

Through all the craziness and hilarity including a brilliantly staged comic set piece involving a pornographic video cassette, super glue and Jim in his underwear, there emerges a real sense that Adam Herz (creator of the characters and co-writer along with David H. Steinberg) cares about these kids. He doesn’t just use them as props and throw them into ridiculous situations. What is probably the best scene in the entire series involves Stifler, Finch and Jim entering the house they’re painting (which happens to belong to two beautiful women) to discover if the residents are lesbians. It progresses to the point of being both titillating and a bit disgusting simultaneously and sends the actors into places I’m sure they’d never imagined they would be.

Then there’s also the return of Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy). They are the biggest dorks in the two films, but also responsible for some of the most touching moments. Jim’s dad, in spite of all his incredibly awkward talks he has with his son, is quite obviously trying to give Jim the best advice he can. He loves his son and wants to do right by him. That his efforts are uncomfortable at best is what makes it both sweet and funny. Jim uses Michelle for advice on how to be a better lover. As the recipient of his only sexual experience, he figures she’s in a good position to judge and provide tips. Mysteriously, Michelle turns out to be quite the experienced little minx and has more than a couple bizarre fetish ideas to toss in to their lessons (musical instruments can really be fun apparently). But a tenderness develops in their friendship and Michelle starts to let on that she’s maybe jealous of Nadia.

I have fond memories of both American Pie and American Pie 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find that both films hold up after all these years. Honestly I have to say the first sequel is the funnier and better film. Director J.B. Rogers had perhaps learned where to make improvements while he served as first assistant director on the first film. I wait in anticipation for the new sequel to come out this month. It could be, and quite possibly will be, a spectacular train wreck. On the other hand, this crew struck comedy gold twice. Even though more than a decade has passed, maybe they can do it again.

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