A film review by Craig J. Koban April 11, 2012


2012, R, 112 mins.


Jim: Jason Biggs / Stifler: Seann William Scott / Oz: Chris Klein / Michelle: Alyson Hannigan / Jim's dad: Eugene Levy / Stifler's mom: Jennifer Coolidge

Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

Well before the screen comedy canon of Judd Apatow there was 1999’s AMERICAN PIE, a then unheard of hard R-rated teen sex comedy that became both a critical and box office darling.  

Featuring the directorial debut of brothers Paul and Chris Weitz, the first PIE film – which spawned two sequels of varying degrees of quality and a series of truly forgettable direct-to-video spin-offs – contained a unique conglomeration of sweetness and raunchiness while giving a self-acknowledging wink to many of the horny adolescent comedies that typified the 80’s.  What made the first AMERICAN PIE film special and envelope pushing was that it created personas of genuine interest.  The film was not just concerned with T and A and bathroom humor (even though it had ample amounts of just that); it wanted us to identify with its anxiety and sex-starved teens. 

AMERICAN REUNION attempts to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle freshness and innovation of that first film, and even though this fourth film has a numbing sense of déjà vu, it modestly succeeds in ways that even the initial entry in the PIE Quadrilogy didn’t.  The first film was about discovering the teen characters during the height of their sexual insecurities and nagging self-doubts, but this new film is about re-connecting with these same people – well into their thirties and well past high school – as they are dealing will new forms personal dilemmas.  AMERICAN REUNION is not the first film’s equal when it comes to daring originality, but the enjoyment derived from watching it is primarily nostalgic: it wants us to re-connect with past characters and see them through a new series of social tribulations.  AMERICAN REUNION is not attempting to outdo its predecessors as much as it’s trying to fulfill the audience’s comfort-food-like requirement to come back to this franchise and have fun again.    

13 years has past since the old gang from East Great Falls have graduated high school and now news of a “13th high school reunion” has surfaced, which arguably marks the first time in movie history that anyone wants to attend a 13th high school reunion.  Jason Biggs’ Jim (who infamously pleasured himself with a dish that’s pure Americana in the first film) is now married to the former band-camp obsessed and semi-sexual deviant Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and they now have a two-year-old son.  Chris Klein’s Oz, the former high school jock with a heart of gold, became a Celebrity Dance Off contestant turned ESPN broadcaster that finds it hard to stay emotionally grounded in a relationship with his trophy girlfriend (Katrina Bowden).  Deep down, he still pines for his high school ex-girlfriend, Heather (Mena Suvari), but they went their separate ways years ago. 



As for the rest of the gang?  Thomas Ian Nicholas’ Kevin has long since broken up with Vicky (Tara Reid) and now finds himself being a male homemaker while his wife works.  And who could forget the “Stiffmeister General” himself, Seann William Scott’s Steve Stiffler is still an unrelenting skirt-chasing man-child that has not really matured beyond high school.  He now works a demeaning job as a temp at an investment firm who still holds a grudge against Eddie Kay Thomas’ Finch for being a literal and multiple-offending mother-fucker (you may recall that he slept with Stiffler’s mother in the first and second film).  Finch’s precise whereabouts are unknown, but he supposedly has been living the life of a globetrotting adventurer.  Riiiiggghhht. 

Whereas most of these characters struggled with issues of getting laid in the initial film, they now are plagued with more adult-related concerns (of course, unless you're Stiffler, who still wants to party and get laid):  Jim and Michelle live a fairly sexless marriage due to their new parental responsibilities; Kevin feels emasculated by his housekeeping duties at home; Oz has money and fame, but he has no one he truly cares about to share it with...and so on.  The film exists primarily for getting all of these characters back together and at times battles stunning banality (gee, I wonder if Oz will pine over getting back Heather and abandon his dim-witted, ecstasy pill popping bimbo girlfriend?), not too mention that writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (of HAROLD AND KUMAR fame) seem very preoccupied with pratfalls and gags involving fecal matter, vomit, masturbation, and erect penises being crushed by laptops.  More often than not, AMERICAN REUNION feels like its lazily objectifying its licentiousness at the risk of losing its way trying to tell an interesting story involving its characters. 

Those are just minor nitpicks, though, because AMERICAN REUNION still generates ample hilarity from the awkward situations it places its hapless characters in: Jim is still a bumbling dweeb even in his thirties that manages to find himself inadvertently involved with a girl that he use to baby-sit, now an 18-year-old buxom goddess that still crushes after him.  Stiffler, to be fair, has owned this series right from the beginning, and even though the sight of a mid-thirtysomething pathetically feigning interest in TWILIGHT in order to score with some high school senior beach babes is, at face value, kind of creepy, Scott always manages to make his character a lovable moron that just has no idea how to keep his libido in check.  Stiffler, to his credit, does manage to get some comeuppance on Finch for his past indiscretions with his mother that seems…well…perversely fair. 

We even get to hook back up with my favorite character in the entire series, Jim’s dad, played ingeniously by Eugene Levy who occupied the past films’ need to have scenes between father and son where he dispensed uncomfortable advice to Jim on matters as far ranging as masturbation to porn mags to the location of the clitoris in order to give him a crash course on the birds and the bees, much to Jim’s increasingly funny dismay.  Jim’s dad is now widowed, alone, still dispensing embarrassing sex advice to Jim ("You'd be surprised what you could do with a well placed thumb") and desperately seeking another to share his time with, which brings him on an almost preordained collision course with Stiffler’s horny-all-the-time mother (Jennifer Coolidge).  Watching this father go from a sad sack to a booze guzzling, pot-smoking hipster (during a late stage party sequence) is one of the film’s sublime delights.  The next day he exclaims – in his obligatory congenial and soft-spoken manner – “I honestly think that I had fun.” 

AMERICAN REUNION is by no means perfect. Chris Klein and Tara Reid remind us more than ever why they have been the performance weak-links in the series.  Mena Suvari maintains a disinterested malaise throughout most of the film.  Beyond that, the film is far, far too long at nearly two hours, which is frustrating considering that they could have very easily trimmed the under-a-minute, paycheck-grabbing cameos by former PIE vets Natasha Lyonne and Shannon Elizabeth to name some (they emerge as superfluous inclusions at best).  Also, for a film that tries to lather on the theme that mid-30’s life is beset with complications, AMERICAN REUNION manages to wrap up its thorny story threads rather conveniently and simplistically.  Still, this fourth film in the PIE series is amusing enough and still bridges its dirty-minded ribaldry with sincerity rather well to warrant a recommendation.  

That, and a little bit of the Stiffmeister and Jim’s Dad goes an awfully long way.   

  H O M E