Review: AMERICAN REUNION looks back with comedic humiliation

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
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Review: AMERICAN REUNION looks back with comedic humiliation
"What's the deal with kids today?" An age-old question that one doesn't need to be ages old to ponder. It comes up among the thirty-something AMERICAN PIE veterans as they find themselves crashing a debauched teen beach party. (Leave the real skin-baring and libido-fest to the more attractive teen set while the familiar, repressed adults hang around it all and wonder if this is how they were - Just one example of how the makers of AMERICAN REUNION manage to have their pie and eat it, too.) Looking back in lieu of looking at the present is instinctual in AMERICAN REUNION. (Don't even bring up looking forward. Considering the questionable camera-friendly nature of some of the aging cast, there's an obvious if dubious strike-while-the-iron's-still-strikable mentality at work in the timing of this film's existence.) It's all about re-connection, this movie - a mostly harmless two-hour nostalgia trip that aims to address all manner of re-connection be it between husbands and wives, former high school lovers, or multiplex audiences and the movies they used to get off laughing at.
REUNION starts off in fine form, delivering what amounts to a pretty clever sequence in a film such as this. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), the stars of three previous PIE films, are now married and have a very young son. It isn't long before the mundane routine heads into territory of sexual embarrassment, which then gives way to the realization that they really need to reconnect as a couple. And, they spend the rest of the film trying to do just that, getting thwarted by shenanigans every step of the way.

That opening sequence, a quick blend of relatable humiliation and realization, is presumably classic "American Pie". I say "presumably" since the truth is that I've only seen the first film, and that was one time, in 1999. The uncomfortable sex comedy was just on the rise then, although I didn't have strong feelings for the movie one way or the other. Consequently, I skipped the umpteen sequels and direct to video spin-offs. In the meantime, certain characters have settled in as minor pop culture notables while others have faded from the collective memory. Likewise the careers of the actors who portray them have ebbed and very much flowed into where-are-they-now obscurity. AMERICAN REUNION brings everyone together again for a reasonably entertaining if overlong nostalgic romp.

Upon returning with his family to his now-widower father's (Eugene Levy, never one to turn down another slice of PIE) home for a better-late-than-never high school reunion, Jim is quickly ambushed by Kara (Ali Cobrin), a distractingly hot girl next door that he used to babysit. Kara, harboring a longtime crush on Jim, urges him to come to her birthday party on the beach, which he refuses but somehow ends up at anyhow. Only minutes after reaching the magic age, Kara is drunk and horny beyond all reason, chucking most of her clothes for a prolonged segment of the film, and thus becoming a nightmare of a problem for the upright married man Jim. This horribly awkward and admittedly funny key sequence will stand as the go-to portion of the film in more ways than one for most fans of this film for years to come.

It's all downhill from there as Stifler (Seann William Scott returning to character he originated back when his idea of comedy acting was to imitate Jim Carrey - something he's locked into now), the token screwball of the group, throws one of his wild house parties, as seen in the original film. The party allows the myriad of characters to venture further into various messy situations, all of which demand to be tidied up in the final twenty minutes, the big official high school reunion finale. The reunion is where the film officially comes undone, as no cameo is left unexploited in between scene after scene of doe-eyed apologies, heartfelt explanations, and a kumbya feeling of togetherness not felt, I'm sure, since freakin' 2003's AMERICAN WEDDING. It's the only high school reunion in history where no one's gotten fatter.

All the while, it's really all about the guys; the ladies relegated to taking a backseat in the story, serving to prop up the fellas' narrative arcs. Of the fairer sex, there's the afore-mentioned Alyson Hannigan, underutilized most likely due to her own still-buzzing career on television. Hanniagan, to her credit, is the only female alum that actually looks like a real woman as opposed to a mid-thirties Hollywood actress trying to pass for a real woman. The film makes no bones about supplanting the franchise's once-sexy females with newer, younger models. Indicative of Hollywood's true attitude about women, it's bye bye Miss American Pie, every one of 'em. That said, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, and very briefly, Shannon Elizabeth fulfill their contractual obligations in good form. But, from instances of Jim's ultra-permissive father supplying him with porno mags to the consequence-free boob-baring sexual high jinks that permeate these films, it's a boy's fantasy world through and through. A little sexual humiliation every now and then is merely the permissible cost of living in this fantasy world, where established marital strife is ultimately brushed aside for a happy ending of five guys sitting around a table clinking beers together.

Last year, audiences failed to get excited about Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox possibly getting stabbed to death in the 1990s revival SCREAM 4. Now we have another late-nineties trip down memory lane out to re-ignite hazy pop culture passions of yesteryear, if not a whole franchise. Like SCREAM 4, AMERICAN REUNION doesn't scrimp in the nostalgia department. It boasts more AMERICAN PIE alum than I personally remember, and no shortage of the raunchy humor that put them on the map. Fans of the "American Pie" series should be satisfied with this latter-year helping, itself more revival than regurgitation.

And yet, regurgitation can't be ruled out. (Heck, actual regurgitation is a concept worthy of this series, with its bodily humor and repulsive tendencies.) Life goes on of course, and before you know it, it's thirteen years later. Without a doubt, aspects of the past tend to shine brighter and brighter in collective memory. Was the original AMERICAN PIE really all that good? Were the characters all that compelling, in their never-ending quests to get laid and live it up? I don't know, probably not. And yet, compared to what passes for teen sex comedy today (I'm looking at you, PROJECT X), AMERICAN PIE is downright FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. But nonetheless, it's said that pop culture is disposable; yet this film is evidence that we can't bring ourselves to dispose of anything.

AMERICAN REUNION doesn't come close to answering the question of what's the deal with kids today, much less what's the deal with adults today - but no one ordered that slice of pie, anyhow. This is the teen comedy that's not a teen comedy anymore, but refuses to become an out-and-out bedroom farce. AMERICAN REUNION, despite being too darn long and character heavy, gets away with it this time. But Universal, please, please don't serve up AMERICAN RETIREMENT - a screenplay that I'm sure is already writing itself. At that point I refuse to look back.

- Jim Tudor
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cuckooApril 6, 2012 10:18 AM

Few things in this world are more depressing than the success of this incredibly unfunny franchise.