American Reunion

Posted by Michael Parsons on April 6, 2012 in / No Comments


(This review was originally published on April 6, 2012 at Reel Film News)

When “American Pie” was released in 1999, it revamped a genre that was being suffocated by watered-down, PG-13 box office fluff. It was, in a sense, a throwback to the comedies of the ‘70s and ‘80s when “Animal House” and “Porky’s” were the standard for raunchy ‘adult’ fare, something that had become all but extinct by the mid ‘90s. Simply put, it revitalized the R-rated comedy. Thirteen years later, nearly nine years after the franchise’s third installment “American Wedding” (I’m not including the four straight-to-video spinoffs in between), the entire cast has returned for “American Reunion”, a  group of now ‘grown-up’ characters that are still fresh enough to warrant a fourth go-around, or from Universal’s standpoint, another $200 million in box office revenue.

88273_galWhether or not it’s still funny…. I’d imagine that depends on who you’re asking. As this installment makes the franchise over a decade old, “Reunion” is for a multi-tiered demographic with the current teenage set at one end of the spectrum and people like myself (let’s just say not teenagers) at the other. Jon Hurwtiz and Hayden Schlossberg, the writing/directing team behind the second “Harold and Kumar” installment, have, on some level, harnessed the combination of crude humor and surprising sensitivity that made Adam Herz’s original film successful. In my opinion, “Reunion” is just funny enough to hold up.

The cast, most of whom are still known best for the characters that made them famous in 1999, have all been summoned back to small town Michigan for their – wait for it – 13th high school reunion (apparently someone, I’m guessing the producers, dropped the ball on number ten). We pick up with Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan), who are now married, fully domesticated versions of their awkward, decade-old characters, with a toddler in tow and a waning sex life. Oz (Chris Klein), the big-hearted jock last seen in “American Pie 2”, is now a TV sports commentator with a live-in model girlfriend  (Katrina Bowden of “30 Rock”). Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas, sporting a beard to show he’s older) is a ‘house husband’, and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) appears to be even more refined and intellectual after globetrotting for the last ten years. And of course there’s Stifler (Seann William Scott), the expletive spouting man-child who is perpetually on the verge of a sexual harassment suit, or at least getting smacked. Whether he’s still the scene-stealer we knew from the first couple movies is debatable. But everyone, perhaps with some inadvertent realism, seems much less interested to be here.

88256_galThe movie takes place over the couple of days leading up to the reunion, as the guys reminisce, consume excess amounts of booze and realize that they no longer have the constitutions of their debaucherous heyday. The funniest moments of “American Reunion” all occur in the first hour of the film, from a retaliatory incident with jet skis (followed by a rather nasty deposit in a beer cooler) to relentless, drunken advances from Jim’s eighteen-year-old ex-neighbor (Ali Cobrin), which ends in a predictable but funny car ride. Aside from Stifler’s antics and the requisite trauma to Jim’s manhood (my most audible laugh came from a scene where he attempts to cover his junk with a clear pot lid – I’ll let you use your imagination), the formula is pretty underwhelming, as the crew reconnects and find themselves in various, sometimes re-hashed predicaments. As far as the rest of the ‘original cast’, Oz rekindles with old flame Heather (Mena Suvari), and Tara Reid has a relatively insignificant reprisal as Vicky only to fill out the roster. Eugene Levy gets a much expanded role as Jim’s dad, giving us about twice as much of the same stuff we got in the previous films.

“American Reunion” is better than I expected it to be, though about fifteen minutes too long only to ensure that every ancillary character from previous films gets some face time. By the time we get to the actual event, it’s as forced as it is entertaining, though the amicable dispositions of the core characters and some solid laughs keep it from becoming too tiresome. If you enjoyed “American Pie”, you’re bound to like something here; for my money, they’re all kind of the same movie, which for a comedy franchise might be considered a tremendous achievement. And with the box office revenue that this installment will undoubtedly rake in, I wouldn’t be surprised if this franchise made it all the way to “American Retirement”.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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