Silver Screen: American Reunion **1/2
The march of time stops for no man, even if he really wants to take a break to have sex with a pie. That's the takeaway message of American Reunion, the nostalgic sequel to the teen-sex comedy franchise that updated Porky's with Farrelly brothers-style grossout gags for the Netscape generation.
Despite being a gleefully juvenile teen-raunch romp, the American Pie series has spawned as many sequels as a stubbornly undead slasher or an endlessly rebooted superhero. The original found awkward schlub Jim (Jason Biggs), handsome jock Oz (Chris Klein), frat-boy spaz Stiffler (Seann William Scott), cerebral nerd Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and generic other guy Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) making a pact to each lose their virginity before graduation. Everyone got laid, went to college for American Pie II, then returned for the first sequel a couple of years later for yet another get-together when Jim married his high-school girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) in the abysmal American Wedding, directed by Bob Dylan's son Jesse, who should really stick to playing tambourine in the Wallflowers or something.
Following the unqualified disaster of American Wedding, the series went underground-- and by underground, I mean straight to DVD-- with a quartet of increasingly far-flung spinoffs. Stiffler's brother took center stage in American Pie Presents Band Camp before passing the phallus-shaped baton to a Stiffler cousin for American Pie Presents Naked Mile and American Pie Presents Beta House. Then came a near-complete reshuffling of the cast in American Pie Presents The Book of Love (or, as it is known in Germany, American Pie Prä sentiert Das Buch Der Liebe), in which a new crew of high-school students go searching for the mystical book of sex secrets located in the school library that you probably didn't remember from the first movie. The only constant in the first seven (seven!) chapters of this epic tale is comedy legend Eugene Levy, who played Jim's dad even when Jim wasn't around anymore. But Levy was on SCTV, so he gets a pass.
It's a dizzyingly convoluted mythology for such a flimsy series, charted in an awesomely complex spreadsheet on Wikipedia if you're really dedicated to keeping up. But even by the second theatrically released sequel, much of the cast had already dropped out. Klein couldn't be bothered to attend Jim's wedding because he was fighting Vietcong with Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers (2002), while the devirginized Mena Suvari and Tara Reid were pursing other projects. Luckily for the film's producers, however, no one had overdosed or joined Kirk Cameron's church, yet nobody's career (aside from Scott's) was soaring so much that they had something better to do than come back.
And come back they do for their thirteenth high-school reunion, which no one actually has but that can be remedied by a quick line of dialogue about everyone missing the ten-year. Jim and Michelle are still married and now have a young child who is cramping their sex life. Kevin is also married, but he's tempted by old flame Vicky (Tara Reid, who has spent the last decade working to make her hair, skin, and lips all the same orange color). Oz has gone onto success as a sportscaster and B-list celebrity, but he's unhappy with his trophy girlfriend, especially in comparison to his first love Heather (Suvari). The mysterious Finch is back after disappearing without a word, returning to town with tales of world travel and adventure. Stiffler, meanwhile, is straining to hang onto his party-guy persona as he toils at a low-level corporate job.
The storylines in American Reunion run the gamut from familiar to utterly dull. Only the subplot involving Jim's widowed father has much resonance, although it is surprisingly sweet. Biggs and Levy are a nice comedic pair, and the dynamic between the conflicted son and the sad but sweetly supportive father could easily have carried its own film-- and that likely would have been a better movie. But fidelity to the format of the original drags the action down deadend alleys about Oz's embarrassment about appearing on a celebrity dance show to... well, pretty much anything involving Kevin.
American Pie's brand of broad grossout humor, blunt as it was before, hasn't aged well. The jokes here work only intermittently, which is a surprise considering Reunion features new writer/director team Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the creators behind the funnier-than-they-should-be Harold and Kumar movies. But Hurwitz and Schlossberg are by far the most competent filmmakers to handle the series since the original, and it shines in comparison to the other sequels.
What American Reunion does is cheaply but effectively incite some nostalgia, much the same way a lousy radio hit from your school days can send you into a pop-Proustian reverie. In fact, much of the nostalgia in the film comes via its retro soundtrack-- some Blink 182, and of course the inevitable tearjerker “Closing Time”-- and the very notion that these songs can now be considered retro. The kid who humped the pie is getting older-- and closer to death? Let's all reflect while we listen to this Third Eye Blind song.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter @bmillercomedy.