I Love the '90s: American Reunion
Another defining coming-of-age love story of the Clinton era, 1999's American Pie, has expanded into a saga far more epic — and rather more adult and complex — than Titanic. American Reunion will be the fourth installment of the Pie series, not counting the straight-to-DVD spin-offs, which continued the race-to-the-bottom stakes of gross-out comedy. (American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile was only slightly less transgressive than Salò: The 120 Days of Sodom.)
American Pie adapted the teen-sex farce, à la Porky's, to the enormously successful admixture of shame-based bodily-function-and-dysfunction humor and sentimentality exemplified by 1998's There's Something About Mary. A motley patchwork of high school stereotypes who were, for some strange reason, friends — catastrophe-prone putz Jim (Jason Biggs), sweet stud Oz (Chris Klein) and keg-party satyr Stifler (Seann William Scott) — fought a losing, frequently embarrassing battle with their hormones.
Sequels followed the East Great Falls High kids to college (American Pie 2) and into training-wheels adulthood (American Wedding). This latest episode, handled by the Harold & Kumar writer-director team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, brings together the full original cast at the 13-year EGFH reunion, as the anticlimactic disappointments of the thirties have begun to sink in. Jim's sex life with onetime band-camp nymphomaniac Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) has gone dry since having kids; B-list talking-head celebrity Oz is mismatched with a party girl, a mistake that becomes glaring when confronted with old flame Heather (Mena Suvari); Stifler is in white-collar clip-on-tie purgatory, still pining to party like it's 1999. (For the sake of this sequel, Stifler's reform in the course of the previous sequel, American Wedding, is ignored.)
As in any reunion, the idea is to recapture a bygone feeling: that is, to echo the Pie films that came before. Jim will engage in awkward birds-and-bees chat with his father (Eugene Levy) and be summarily subjected to public humiliation. Stifler will stay on the shots-and-tits hamster wheel, acting exactly like Stifler. Basic truths about sex and intimacy will be rediscovered and reinforced. Boobs will make an appearance. The character of Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) will continue to be dead weight.
After some strained "Remember the time..." callbacks to 13-year-old gags, American Reunion gets comfortable and funny, as Hurwitz and Schlossberg hit familiar marks from unexpected angles, while the ensemble interplay is "routine" in the best sense of the word. Taken altogether, the Pie movies offer a cohesive worldview, showing each of life's stages as the setting for fresh-yet-familiar catastrophes, relieved by a belief in sex, however ridiculous it might look, as a restorative force. The recipe is so durable and the sustained character work — more arrested development than development — so second skin by now, one can imagine the Pie films keeping with the dramatis personae through middle age and into the problems of geriatric love, a raunch-comic version of Britain's documentary Up series, which revisits the same subjects every seven years: American Midlife Crisis? American Retirement? American Funeral? Let's go!
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