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Film review: American Reunion*
Great movie!” says Jim’s Dad at the very end of American Reunion – hopefully speaking for the audience, but it doesn’t really work out that way. He’s at the cinema, watching a film with Stifler’s Mom, and she’s leaning over his lap with her head bobbing up and down, making his popcorn bob up and down and … well, I’ll spare you the details but I guess I can see how American Reunion might indeed seem like a great movie, under those circumstances. Taken on its own, alas, it fails to excite in the same way. Any resemblance between the film we’re watching and the film Jim’s Dad (the great Eugene Levy) is watching is purely coincidental.
It’s a good week for reunions at the cinema, though The Avengers isn’t really a reunion since most of those superheroes are meeting for the first time. Not so the American Pie gang, who know each other intimately (maybe a little too intimately) and immediately start swapping stories from a decade ago. Much of American Reunion – set during the gang’s high-school you-know-what – consists of stirring dormant memories, in the touching belief that we’ve all kept them shiny and vivid. Remember when Jim humped the titular pie? Remember the video clip with that exchange student? Here’s Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and here’s a flute; get the reference? Finch and Stifler’s Mom – remember that one? How about Stifler and lesbians?
Yes, yes and yes. I remember it well (maybe a little too well). But enough with the pleasantries – how about the actual, 113-minute movie? It starts off quite promisingly, with bedsprings creaking and a bed bouncing, Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle clearly in the spirit of the background music, R. Kelly’s ‘Bump’n Grind’ – at least till the camera cranes up to reveal that Michelle’s rocking their baby son to sleep, bouncing up and down with Jim looking bored beside her. Clearly it’s going to be that kind of film (see, for instance, Hall Pass), trapped 30-somethings looking back longingly to their adolescent freedom. Jim and Michelle are married and stuck in a rut. The bland Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a wife who’s obsessed with reality shows. Oz (Chris Klein) is a TV celeb, but his life is empty. Stifler (Seann William Scott) is working as a lowly temp. Only Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) seems to lead an interesting life – but appearances are deceptive.
There’s a melancholy comedy (the best kind) in there somewhere – maybe a throwback to the first American Pie, back in 1999, which was sweet and a little bit sad on the foibles of its desperate characters. Alas, what we actually get is flat and uninspired, OD’ing on Stifler’s antics and frantically pimping Jim’s Dad (watch him get drunk! smoke pot! say “chillax”! dance to ‘Sexy and I Know It’!) to disguise its lack of ideas. Sample moment: Jim and Dad peruse one of Jim’s old porn mags. “Wow,” marvels innocent Dad, “these pages are all stuck together!” – and Jim looks embarrassed. It’s almost all on that level.
‘Well of course,’ you might say, ‘it’s American Pie’ – but sex comedy doesn’t have to be tacky. The opening scene, with Jim checking out Amazing College Sluts.com while his wife is in the shower only to discover – in a scene of mounting chaos, brought on by the unexpected appearance of baby Ivan – that she’s having it off with the shower-head, is outrageous, even-handed and perceptive about their shared loneliness, all at the same time. Yet most of the film plays like a sitcom, maybe something like Modern Family with that painful contrived ‘inclusiveness’ (geeks do it, gays do it, senior citizens do it…), and a lot of it is just second-rate. One of the big scenes, with Jim trying to smuggle an unconscious, party-drunk 18-year-old girl into her parents’ home while Stifler and the others distract said parents, falls well shy of the yeah-right threshold, while the whole thing is so hazily structured that the actual reunion feels like an afterthought.
What can you say about a comedy that wrings its hands over Jim’s attraction to a girl who is, after all, 18, yet has no problem with Stifler defecating noisily (with sound effects) into a beer cooler? Maybe that subversion, and a sense of the truly outrageous, has leaked out of American Pie, if indeed it ever existed. What’s left is a mostly tedious romp that starts affectionate, gets repetitive and ends up feeling endless. “Great movie”? Jim’s Dad, what are you smoking?
DIRECTED BY Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
STARRING Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Eugene Levy
US 2012 113 mins