– Summary –
Directors : Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg.
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, John Cho, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Ali Cobrin, Chuck Hittinger, Vik Sahay.
Approx Running Time : 113 Minutes
Synopsis: The class of 1999’s American Pie gather in their home town of East Great Falls to their school reunion.
What we think : Fourth cinematic release in the American Pie franchise seeks to tie up some loose ends, rekindle our love affair with these characters, and reaffirm why the series should have ended at the Wedding of Jim and Michelle. Plenty of raunch, coupled with a gratuity of sexy babes and buff blokes, as well as a heartfelt script from two guys who obviously love the series, Reunion is pleasant enough – and hilarious enough – without really taking these characters to new places. If this is the last bow for Pie, then it’s decent enough.
When American Pie burst onto the scene in 1999, you could almost feel the ghost of John Belushi’s Animal House hovering overhead. Crass, vulgar, titillating and oh-so-funny, American Pie introduced character we now consider to be archetypal modern school-aged kids on screen; the bumbling nerd, the oversexed jock, the sensitive-but-misunderstood athlete, and the virginous dilettante were all rebooted for the new millennium. With it came such pop-culture references as “… and this one time, at band camp…” and Stifler’s Mom, and although in the time since the glut of clone films to grab hold of Pie’s coattails has increased (usually with a decrease in quality), American Pie remains as funny now as it was then. Of course, a film as successful as American Pie inevitably produced a number of sequels, including several which were direct-to-video affairs with only the franchise branding linking them to the main features. American Pie 2 came and went, then the third cinematic release in American Wedding (which saw lead character Jim wed his high-school BDSM lover Michelle), before the DTV crud showed up. Now, some 13 or so years since the original, the original cast of American Pie decided one more trip to the well was in order, and we got American Reunion. But is this reunion worth the wait? Would we have been better off not knowing what befell Jim, Kevin, Stifler and all the rest?
Eternal hornbag Jim (Jason Biggs) and his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married with a child, although their sex life has fallen considerably by the wayside. When they return to Great East Falls for their school reunion, Jim meets up once again with Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Oz (Chris Klein) and Stifler (Seann William Scott) and they reflect on the changes in their lives since highschool. Jim meets his next door neighbor, Kara (Ali Cobrin), whom he used to babysit, only to discover she’s now all grown up and, apparently, has the hots for her former crush. Stifler struggles with the fact that he’s no longer the cool kid on the block, with the current crop of school kids doing all the stuff he used to do (and invariably better). Oz has a low level career on television, and was recently booted from a reality television dance competition. Kevin, meanwhile, has a loving wife who works, while he stays home as a house-husband, something he’s not always entirely comfortable with – especially when he has to front up to his reunion. As the weekend of the reunion goes along, they all discover that no matter where they go, or who they’re with, the bonds of friendship will never be broken.
Sliding a film like American Reunion into the BluRay player is like spotting an old friend walking the other way down at the mall. You make eye contact, take half a second to recognise the face, and then spend a while chatting like you’ve never been apart. That’s how American Reunion felt while I was watching it; familiar. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and I’d say that while Reunion does have some flaws overall, it’s not a film designed to do anything but transport you back to 1999 and watching those characters go about their business. The characters are so ingrained into our memories now, they really are like old friends. And while this Reunion never truly breaks new ground (hell, it even tries to retread old ground) it is a decent enough send-off for these much loved icons. Critics harsher than I would perhaps argue that these characters are a little too familiar, and that they offer nothing new in terms of development and story, but I’d say that’s not quite who American Reunion is aimed at. As a franchise film, it’s aimed directly at the audience who know these people, and who enjoy their brand of story – unique or not.
The core characters – Jim, Stifler, Chris, Kevin and Finch – return after several years of life between installments, and as you’d imagine they’re inherently the same. Jim’s a klutzy sex maniac who can’t help but stare at the younger women, Stifler is… well, still Stifler, although he’s now struggling to accept that he’ll never recapture the High School way of life he was used to, while Chris has gone on to become a minor celebrity on a sports show who’s largest claim to fame was being kicked off a reality TV dancing show. Kevin is now a house husband to a successful wife, and Finch has been traveling the world having all kinds of adventures. While their life situations have changed, their characters have not – Jim’s still awkward about sex, Finch isn’t, Stifler isn’t, Chris and Kevin aren’t but wish they’d had more fulfilling lives, while Jim’s wife Michelle seems discontented with her husband’s lack of intimacy. Throw in Jim’s widowed father trying to “get back in the game” with women, and you have a return to form for the Pie franchise that sees more gross-out comedy and juvenile humor than you can poke a stick at.
As you’d expect from a franchise some 13 years old, the humor and characters have undergone some minor changes – mainly to their life circumstances – and this is where a lot of the film’s humor is derived. American Pie was a tale essentially about guys trying to get into relationships, while Reunion is a story of people in them, wondering if they should be. The script, written by the two directors in Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, is sassy enough without being perhaps as raunchy as the original Pie, but where it lacks in pure ribald humor it makes up for in heart; these guys obviously loved the franchise, and it’s easy to see in virtually every scene. The relationship between Jim and Michelle, which became something of a cornerstone in the franchise, seems to start out as the principle motivator for this story, but does tend to become lost in the jumble of other characters’ arcs as well, leaving this Pie a little unbalanced emotionally speaking. Stifler, essayed by the always lovable Seann William Scott (who will forever be typecast as this kind of douche) has a larger role here, and I guess of all the characters returning his is the one with the most development – which is weird considering how much of a one-note creating his character actually is!
The filmmakers manage to shoehorn in Stifler’s Mom, Jim’s Dad (a wonderful Eugene Levy, who steals every scene he’s in), as well as a couple of fresh faces to the saga – namely, Dania Ramirez as former “band camp” member Selena, Katrina Bowden as Oz’s shallow-but-hot girlfriend Mia, Jay Harrington as Ron, Heather’s new boyfriend, and Ali Cobrin as Kara, the girl-next-door-who-grew-up. Cobrin, in a hilarious scene with Biggs, is this films’ Shannon Elizabeth, getting her gear off in the name of comedy. Unfortunately, the juvenile humor doesn’t quite fly as easily as it did back in ’99. While the actors all fit snugly into their respective characters skins, there’s a subtle sense of desperation about the humor, in that it seems to be hinging less on being controversial or politically incorrect than it does on just going through the motions of expectation. Cobrin’s awkwardly played scene of trying to have sex with Biggs in his car, in which she takes off her top and throws it out the window as they’re driving along, is funny, sure, but you get the sense that Bigg’s is a little “past it”. It’s a little….. yeah, desperate. Stifler, while he’s hilarious, is equally desperate for laughs in this, and it shows. His humor is hit-and-miss in this installment, with even a tacit nod to his lack of character growth made clear by another character challenging his constant use of the term “Stiffmeister”.
Aside from all this, the film does have two significant weaknesses that loom large over proceedings. First, Chris Klein’s Oz, and second, Thomas Ian Nicholas’s Kevin. Neither of these characters are even vaguely interesting, yet we must endure entire scenes where we’re forced to watch them spit out lines about second chances, “what if” and all that other kind of garbage. Klein proves his ability as an actor is limited at best, with his puppy-dog soulful expression never once wavering, while Nicholas’s Kevin might as well be a drawn stick-figure for all his nuances and subtlety. Kevin’s reuniting with Tara Reid’s Vicki is as awkwardly hackle-raising as you’d imagine, considering their story related a lot to Vicki’s sluttiness (or lack thereof) and Tara Reid’s real life gossip-mag activities contrasting heavily. Oz, who spots one-time love Heather strolling along and suddenly finds he’s still in love with her, has a story where he’s stuck between the former love and his ditzy current one – for some reason, there’s nearly zero chemistry between Oz and Heather (they literally melted the screen in the original outing) and the motivation for their arc is probably the weakest of the lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy this trip down memory lane, and the film does have that warm glow of effortless familiarity to it. But it comes at a price – I think to a certain extent we’ve outgrown these characters, and while there’s plenty to enjoy about Jason Biggs getting his junk ensnared in a cooking pot lid (which induces the same cringe factor as the same kind of shot did in There’s Something About Mary) I think the emotional quandaries our central characters have to endure seem more manufactured than organic, and played for frantic laughs instead of genuine humor; something American Pie had in just the right amount. American Reunion isn’t the best of the Pie franchise, nor is it the worst. It’s a solid enough ending (even taking into account the flaws I mentioned) for the adventures of these characters, and if this truly is the last of this saga, then I’m glad it turned out as well as it did.