Wednesday, April 11, 2012

American Reunion - Theatrical Review


Release Date: April 6, 2012

13 years after the first American Pie descended upon us as well as its subsequent sequels, we are given one last opportunity to say goodbye to some old friends and have a few laughs along the way. Too bad this isn't the farewell they deserved.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 12 Glendora at the Block in Orange
Time: 1:35 pm April 7, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 50 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: Nostalgia infused movies
Likes: The first American Pie movie
Neutral: American Pie 2, American Wedding
Hates: Those horrible direct-to-video sequels
What?: A 13 year reunion

I have never been what you would call a fan of the American Pie franchise. I like the (theatrical) movies for the most part and would even go so far as to say that I consider the first film to be somewhat of a teen comedy classic at this point in history. However, I just never got attached to any of these characters in a way that actually made me anticipate their return. I certainly enjoyed my time with them but didn't really miss them either. So when American Reunion was announced I responded with a shrug and a sigh towards the news. It seemed like a good idea but I just didn't really care one way or the other about it. What I'm getting at here is that I am probably not the best person to judge whether or not this particular film works as a final chapter for these characters and because of that I suggest you take everything I am about to say about the film with a heaping amount of salt. Regardless of your feelings on how the film treats its legacy though, it doesn't quite reach that crescendo it needed in order to drum up the proper amount of nostalgia that would make most people appreciate it as a closing chapter on one of the more influential teen comedies from the past 15 years. These guys deserved better than this. 

The kids of East Great Falls Michigan have all grown up and the time has come for their 13 year High School Reunion. Coming back together after all these years spent apart reunites old friendships, old rivalries and even rekindles some old relationships but most of all this reunion serves is an opportunity for them to resolve many of their current problems, both old and new. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are having some marital problems, Jim's dad (Eugene Levy) is dealing with being single again after his wife recently passed away, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is dealing with the reality of becoming domesticated and his latent feelings for Vicky (Tara Reid), Chris 'Oz' Ostreicher (Chris Klein) is just realizing that his celebrity life style isn't exactly what he wanted after meeting up with his High School sweetheart Heather (Mena Suvari) again, Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has learned that leading an adventurous life hasn't worked out the way he wished and finally there is Stifler (Sean William Scott) who is still trying to keep the party going all these years later. All of them will have to come to terms with reality and find what they truly want out of life before their reunion weekend is over. 

The gangs all back for one last go.

It's not that I dislike any of these characters, it's more like they have never left any sort of real impact on me, at least not enough to warrant any real attachment to any of them over the course of sequels they have appeared in. The first film was the perfect movie for its time. There hadn't been what I would call a raunchy teen comedy in a good number of years up to that point. I have always saw this series of films as a Porky's for a new generation more than anything else and I still stand by that comparison today. That first film though was ground breaking in a lot of ways, it along with many other gross out comedies during that time set a standard for going just far enough without ever going too far with the gags. Everyone remembers the infamous pie scene or Jim's smooth dance moves for the hot foreign exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) that was broadcast all over the internet or the now legendary usage of the acronym MILF to describe...well, you know. Oh and who could forget what happened at band camp?

Despite my indifference to the characters it was those moments along with many more that helped define a generation of kids. It was those moments more than anything that I look back upon with a fondness when recollecting what it was I loved about that first film and to a lesser extent its sequels. That is what makes this final(?) chapter in the series so disheartening, there just seems to be this inherent lack of originality to any of it and an almost disrespect towards how those characters are handled here. Most of how Reunion plays out feels like someone trying to recreate or replicate everything that had made those previous movies so memorable and not doing a very good job at it. Even the actors with the possible exception of Sean William Scott seem to be just going through the motions. This film should feel like an event, it should feel more important or at the very least relevant to the idea that this is most likely the last time we will see this group of friends. It feels as though everyone showed up for the party but no one seemed very excited to be there.

Jim still gets lectures from his father.

To clarify what I am talking about here let me describe a key plot line that encompasses most of whats wrong with the film. Coming back home with his wife and child, Jim spots his neighbor, a girl he used to babysit who is suffering from a bad case of jailbait-itis. I knew where this was going the moment she popped, jiggled and giggled her way on to the screen. Jim is forced to deal with the temptations of this much younger girl who has had a crush on him since she was a little girl and with his marital problems he is a very susceptible to this girl's "charms". Throughout the course of the film we are witness to a series of mishaps and awkward situations as she tries to seduce Jim over and over again as he tries his best to ward her off which eventually culminates into the obvious discovery by Michelle at what is or isn't going on at the worst possible moment that leads to even more problems.

There are a few things wrong with this situation. First of all this is supposed to be a movie about this group of kids who we have watched grow up over the years coming together for one final bash. So why does the film feel the need to throw in a brand new character that takes up a large percentage of screen time? I don't know her, maybe if there were something to tie her into the previous films where we actually saw Jim babysitting her then perhaps it would have made sense. But no, she is a character made up simply to give Jim and Michelle a conflict that really wasn't needed (they were already dealing with other issues). Another part of the problem is how half-assed the film is at bringing back characters from the previous films. If they wanted to give Jim some more problems then why not throw Nadia at him instead of during the last ten minutes of the movie for a quick walk-on (I wouldn't even call it a cameo)? That would have been much more prominent and logical given their history with one another. Hell, they even set up her continued infatuation with Jim by giving her a boyfriend who is a carbon copy of him!

Stifler still likes to party.

That is what I mean about this film feeling as though the people who made it either didn't have any sort of adoration for the material or just didn't know about the history of these characters which in either case means they shouldn't have taken on the project. Why waste so much time introducing us to this girl we don't know, don't want to know and could give two shits about and then take an iconic character like Nadia (in the American Pie universe anyway) and just throw her in for a quick throwaway scene? This problem goes beyond Jim though and seeps into all the character's stories. Look at Finch, a guy that has been searching for the perfect woman since the first film. Finch had a nice platonic friendship with Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) who was a fairly regular character in all the films and helped him gain popularity in the first film by taking a bribe but showed she really did care for him at the end. Instead of bringing those two characters back and having them reconnect we get to see Finch hook up with this barmaid Selena (Dania Ramirez) whom they shoehorn into the film by telling us she was part of their class even though this was the first time we see her. Then just like Nadia, Jessica shows up at the end of the film for a quick scene to tell everyone she is a lesbian. What? The same goes for the Sherminator (Chris Owen) who gets a quick two minute scene and that's it.

Now I'm not saying that any of that should be handled the way I pointed out. No, all I'm saying is that for the type of movie this is or was trying to be (a retrospective celebration) it shouldn't have felt like just another sequel which is what it ultimately felt like. I can only imagine how people would react if they actually felt some sort attachment to these characters. Introducing all these new characters, the ones I mentioned are just a drop in the bucket, and all these needless subplots just felt sloppy to me and took up time that could have been better utilized for characters we actually knew. Even the characters that did have worthwhile reunions such as Kevin and Vicky or Oz and Heather were handled so blandly that I started nodding off whenever they appeared on screen. It's not that I didn't care, well maybe a little I suppose, it's that there didn't seem to be any sort of revelation or redemption to anything they did. Kevin meets up with Vicky one night and "thinks" he had sex with her which leads to him discovering what he really wants is his current wife. Really? That's how you wrap up four films worth of sexual tension between them?  Oz and Heather both show up with a significant other that seem completely wrong for each of them...oh boy, I wonder if they will ditch them and end up together? Oh, but not before they have another quick conflict again. That would be too easy for them to just jump into each others arms, they have to resolve a misunderstanding first. Give me a break. So much time is wasted on these completely insignificant hurdles that each character must jump that would probably matter more if they hadn't already jumped them multiple times in the previous films. This should be about them wrapping their stories up, not adding more complexities.

Kevin and Finch still struggle to be noticed.

The one saving grace to this mess is the one constant good thing that has pervaded all the films in the series thus far which is Stifler. He has been and always shall be the backbone of the American Pie films. He has successfully remained a lovable jerk-off of a character for the entire series and that still stands true here. He is the one character in this film that seems to have an actual arc. Throughout the course of all the films he has constantly been the butt of almost every joke to help balance out his awful behavior and his substantial personality flaws. He has consistently been thrown to the wolves and I have loved every minute of it. If he wasn't busy drinking a beer with some semen in it or lavishly bathing himself in another man's urine then he was constantly being thwarted at every turn during his quest for the ultimate party. I would even go so far as to say that Stifler has had it rougher than any other character in the entire franchise which seems kind of ridiculous when you stop to think about it, but it's true.

Because of that extensive history of bad luck, bad karma and being put into situations that go against everything he believes in (remember that scene where he wanted two girls to make out in front of him?), the way his story develops and concludes in Reunion makes complete and total sense. It even goes all the way back to the first film when Finch slept with Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and provides a sort of redemption for the poor party animal. It's kind of sad and also somewhat poetic that Stifler, the guy who has been pissed on (literally) in all the other films up to this point has the last laugh when it comes to a proper character arc. That is the one fatal flaw to American Reunion for me, for a movie that is supposedly closing the book on all these characters it does it so poorly that I almost wish they would have another go at it...if I cared that is, which I don't.

There are a few nice call backs to the other films.

Now if the comedy had been spot on then a lot of these missteps could be forgiven but even the so called humor is borderline embarrassing by relying way to heavily on what worked in the past and not changing with the times. Many people remember that first film as being fairly raunchy and somewhat explicit which it most certainly was for its time. But time does funny things to how people perceive what is and isn't funny (just ask the poor Farrelly brothers) and while a lot of the gags in those earlier films were pretty racy for their time they just don't go far enough any more to compare to other more recent outrageous comedies (Super, Harold & Kumar, Your Highness, etc.). What does that have to do with the new movie? American Reunion's baseline humor is extremely derivative of that first film to the point where you have to wonder if this was a script from ten years ago. Seeing Jim's penis half covered by a see-through pot lid wasn't shocking, it wasn't extreme and it certainly wasn't funny (Forgetting Sarah Marshall did the same joke much better). Even the gag used to degrade Stifler once again was tame compared to all the other things that have happened to him over the years. To put it bluntly, the comedy (or lack there of) in American Reunion is stale as a two week old loaf of bread and without a solid script or actors who want more than a paycheck out of their involvement it leaves very little for me to recommend.

But I will say that there was a slight bit of nostalgia that swept over me while watching the film. As we are slowly re-introduced to each character I found myself surprisingly interested in finding out what they had been up to and where they were going. Only on that level and that level alone can I still find it in me to suggest that perhaps you might get some semblance of enjoyment out of it. There are even a handful of jokes that do work (mostly thanks to Stifler though) that could be more than enough to get some people through the film. My lack of enthusiasm for the property just made it very difficult for me to look past its poor execution on such a simple premise of giving all these characters any sort of satisfying closure and that unfortunately made the entire experience very trying. If you were a huge fan of the original American Pie and feel the need to spend just a little more time with them then I suggest you wait and...




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