(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.
Whether 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.
The 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”.