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Entries in American Reunion [2012] (1)

Wednesday
Apr112012

American Reunion (2012)

Saggy Boobs

Once again, I struggle to review an American Pie movie. Sad to say, I'm fighting a hell of a springtime cold, and the fourth film in this series* just wasn't a strong enough dose of laughter to be the medicine I need. Before you get all incredulous and accuse me of harboring a DayQuil-head bias, I should mention that I quite liked American Reunion. It's warm, good-natured, and sweetly nostalgic--but I can't recommend it as a comedy, or a theatrical experience.

Co-writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg get their one truly inspired joke out of the way early on, while simultaneously addressing the one issue everyone I know who watched the trailer wondered about right off the bat: aren't the American Pie kids a bit old to be attending their tenth high school reunion? Yes, they are, and thanks to East Great Falls High's bumbling planning committee a thirteen-year reunion is the best the gang can get.

And so it is that the MILF-loving, pie-banging misfits all roll into town. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married--with a kid and without a sex life; Oz (Chris Klein) is a famous sports-caster; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is an emasculated stay-at-home dad; Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a world-travelling man of mystery; and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is a corporate temp who still lives at home with his mom (Jennifer Coolidge).

If you suspect that the marriage will work out, that one of the group will turn out not to be what he seems, and that at least one of them will learn to stand up for himself, you've got uncanny instincts--at least according to the filmmakers. Honestly, I expected a lot more nuance and surprise from the guys who made the third Harold & Kumar movie into an uplifting thrill-ride of vulgar imagination. Perhaps the pedestrian, sub-Porky's high jinks are meant as a meta-commentary on the movie's theme of hip kids growing old and fading into irrelevance. As great as that idea is, the audience still has to trudge through nearly two hours of sitcom writing and the occasional boob/crotch shot.

As I said before, though, I liked the movie. When Jim and his crew aren't trying to sneak a drunk, naked teenager back into her parents' house,** or crapping in the cooler of local high school jerks, they're dealing with serious relationship issues in pretty touching ways. Jim's dad (Eugene Levy) is a widower now, and is reluctantly learning how to get back in the dating game; the role reversal of his awkwardly seeking advice from his son is funny and sweet. It's also nice to see Stifler come to grips with not being the young hotshot anymore. Much of Scott's delivery falls flat, and the actor looks to have far outgrown the role--which works perfectly for his character.

Oz and Kevin are still completely useless--as is, unfortunately, Finch this time around. Though Klein has a wonderful scene in which he performs in a Dancing with the Stars-style reality show; he has a spark here that I haven't seen since Election. As this is ostensibly the series' swan song, the filmmakers bring back everyone from the first movie, including, sadly, Tara Reid, whose Vicky character is given so little to do that her arc involves jumping to a ridiculous conclusion so that she and ex-boyfriend, Kevin, can make up later (i.e. pad out their screen time). Mena Suvari also returns, and is outperformed by her ridiculous blonde wig.

The stuff that works really works, and the stuff that doesn't work is just kind of shrug-worthy. That's a big problem when putting together a comedy. A bigger problem, though, is a lack of a target audience. If Hurwitz and Schlossberg were banking on fans that made the 1999 original a smash, they did the audience a disservice by giving them a late-90s sex comedy with millennial-suburban-male naval-gazing. Sex comedies have grown far bolder, raunchier, and weirder in the last thirteen years--mostly because American Pie gave the writers who came after plenty of things to top (not only in terms of gross-out material, but also in redefining genre archetypes and taking stories to unexpected places).

For this reason, I doubt American Reunion will appeal to today's teens and twenty-somethings, who will likely find the film less compelling than anything they can look up on their phones while in the theatre. With edgy, hilarious "R"-rated comedies like Project X and 21 Jump Street playing in the same multiplex, this film feels more like the re-release of James Cameron's Titanic in 3D--a nostalgia trip for old people that marketing departments really want teens to think is cool.

I didn't mind catching up with Jim and his friends, but I don't know that I'll remember anything about this movie in a couple weeks (except, maybe, Rebecca De Mornay's surprise appearance). In this way, American Reunion is a lot like an actual high school reunion: you show up, smile in recognition or wince in embarrassment, and then wonder what the big deal was on the drive home.

*It's actually number eight, if you count the four direct-to-video sequels that've come out since 2003's American Wedding.

**Cool it, pervs--she's legal.