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American Reunion (2012)

What loser doesn’t attend their 13th high school reunion? Who even organizes such an untimely event? The generally unnecessary American Reunion is being dished out to the public for a number of reasons. The studio would like to revive their once lucrative sex-comedy-meets-baked-goods franchise, and most of these actors could desperately use the work. Remember when the likes of Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, and Tara Reid were above-the-title names? What I recall, now that the gang is together again, is that I found most of these characters to be dullards. They’re in their 30s, have careers and families, and stupidly comfortable lives, yet they’re up to the same old hijinks, which just seem a bit more desperate and embarrassing this time around. Seann William Scott, the franchise’s true wild card, is still amusing as ever, but I couldn’t swallow the forced nostalgia for characters that are unappealing. Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan still make a nice pair, but rehashing the old gang mitigates their screen time. Comedy-wise, the movie has a few memorable gross-out moments but nothing really hilarious. I laughed from time to time but mostly I was bored, and Klein, especially in his new post-Street Fighter ironic version of himself, is rarely boring. It’s a pleasant enough experience and I suppose fans of the original films will get a kick out of seeing who ended up where and, in particular, what he hell happened to Reid’s leathery face. Otherwise, American Reunion is a gathering that nobody called for and fails to justify all the effort. Then again, my favorite of the American Pie films is the second one, so take my words with caution.

Nate’s Grade: C

Jersey Girl (2004)

Writer/director Kevin Smith (Dogma) takes a stab at family friendly territory with the story of Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck), a music publicist who must give up the glamour of the big city to realize the realities of single fatherhood. Despite brief J. Lo involvement, Jersey Girl is by no means Gigli 2: Electric Boogaloo. Alternating between edgy humor and sweet family melodrama, Smith shows a growing sense of maturity. Liv Tyler stars as Maya, a liberated video store clerk and Ollie’’s real love interest. Tyler and Affleck have terrific chemistry and their scenes together are a playful highlight. The real star of Jersey Girl is nine-year-old Raquel Castro, who plays Ollie’’s daughter. Castro is delightful and her cherubic smile can light up the screen. Smith deals heavily with familiar clichés (how many films recently end with some parent rushing to their child’’s theatrical production?), but at least they seem to be clichés and elements that Smith feels are worth something. Much cute kiddie stuff can be expected, but the strength of Jersey Girl is the earnest appeal of the characters. Some sequences are laugh-out-loud funny (like Affleck discovering his daughter and a neighbor boy engaging in “the time-honored game of “doctor””), but there are just as many small character beats that could have you feeling some emotion. A late exchange between Ollie and his father (George Carlin) is heartwarming, as is the final image of the movie, a father and daughter embracing and swaying to music. Jersey Girl proves to be a sweetly enjoyable date movie from one of the most unlikely sources.

Nate’s Grade: B

American Wedding (2003)

So it looks like Jim (Jason Biggs) and his bang-camp lovin’’ girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are going to tie the knot. As the wedding approaches hilarious hijinks ensue. That’s really about it plot-wise. Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) makes a return to goose every one up for a wedding, which also promises bridesmaids and a bachelor party. More hijinks ensue until the wedding.

The best thing the ‘American Pie’ makers did was shaving down their overloaded cast. Gone are Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Natascha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and Tara Reid. And good riddance I say. What made ‘American Pie 2’ an improvement, for me, was that they focused on the interesting characters (Jim, Michelle, Stifler, Finch) and then gave the others some scant storyline. The comedy worked better when it wasn’t so divided among characters that weren’’t equal in being compelling.

Scott is a whirling comic Tasmanian devil; with his twitchy weaselly grin, his drunken leer, and near spitfire delivery of such profanity-laden lines. The Stifler character has come a long way since having only 11 lines in 1999’’s ‘American Pie’. He emerged as a strong supporting character in the 2001 sequel, igniting the screen whenever he entered. Now Scott has become the de facto star of the ‘American Pie’ trilogy: it’’s really all about the rise and evolution of Stifler. He’s gone from being the sneering jerk to becoming a lovable loudmouth. ‘American Wedding’ is really the Steve Stifler show. He shouts, dances, and eats dog crap – all for your enjoyment people. Scott’s efforts and energy are so transcendent that he rightfully owns the film, much in the same way Johnny Depp entirely owned ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

Biggs and Hannigan have a lovely charm to them and both are blessed with radiant smiles. Eugene Levy is still hilarious as the dad who has a problem with over sharing. The other actors serve out their roles from straight-guy (Thomas Ian Nicholas) to horrible-reaction-guy (Eddie Kaye Thomas). The woman, who plays Michelle’s sister, and the object of both Finch and Stifler’’s eye, is named January Jones.

Not everything works as smoothly the third slice around. Some jokes are inspired like the one-upsmanship of a bachelor party gone awry when Michelle’’s parents interrupt (which, like the second film, provides the gratuitous nudity). Some jokes feel dull, especially some misbegotten pubic hair belonging to Jim. And then some jokes just lose their momentum as they seem to stretch. Stifler dancing in a gay bar just to prove he can make even gay men want him? Funny. Have it go on and on with substandard dancing for a dance-off? Loses the funny. But with any comedy, and especially ones following the gross-out expectations, everything is hit-or-miss.

I also noticed something quite odd about ‘American Wedding’: It’s terribly directed. Many scenes are shot at oblique angles often with characters not even facing the camera. The cutting seems awkward as well as the framing. The film was directed by Jesse Dylan (How High), who is, no joke, a son of the legendary Bob.

‘American Wedding’ seems like a fitting end to these characters journeys. It’s a comedy ripe with laugh-out-loud moments and groaners, mostly supplied by Scott. There’s also a degree of sweetness. In a summer drenched in sequels, at least one of them fulfilled some of its promise.

Nate’s Grade: B-

American Pie 2 (2001)

First and foremost I disliked the first American Pie movie. It just rang very transparent for me and I didn’t laugh once – a capitol crime with a comedy in my book. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another addition with the American Pie family, but ventured out with friends and found myself enjoying this second helping of raunch. And this time I genuinely laughed at several points and found it overall less insipid.

To American Pie 2‘s benefit all the characters have been introduced prior and are familiar to the audience, therefore no time is wasted on pointless set-up. The movie jumps right out to the familiar faces and decides to further the AP2 universe. Jim (Jason Biggs) and friends are returning back home after their first year of college. Jim has not had a sexual experience since his prom night with Michelle the band geek (Alyson Hannigan) and he is completely in doubt of his abilities in the bedroom. Complicating matters is the news that the Czech student of his fantasies Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is on her way back and is eagerly anticipating another tryst with Jim. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is still hung up on his ex Vicky (Tara Reid) and worrying that his friends will grow apart and college will change everything. Oz (Chris Klein) seems to be doing fine with his monogamous relationship to Heather (Mena Suvari), despite the taunting of Stifler (Sean William Scott) that he needs to spread out. Finally Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is still chasing after the only woman that ever caught his heart, Stifler’s mom.

After the boys return back to their roots the police bust a party at Stifler’s pad, and they are without a place to party for the summer. Kevin brings to their attention the idea of renting a cabin on the beach for the summer. The place serves as a spot for the boys to enjoy their sunshine-y days away from school and stay together as friends, as well as attempt to get an abundance of tail. Hi-jinks ensue.

AP2 almost seems to follow the formula of the first one to the letter. The opening scene has Jim’s dad (the always hilarious Eugene Levy) walking in on an embarrassing moment for Jim (you think he’d learn that doors have locks at this point). Jim encounters a horrific sexual accident that he must discuss with his father afterwards. Stifler gets a not-so-nice encounter with a bodily fluid in the beginning party. And it all ends with a big party to end all parties with everyone hooking up with a partner for some post-coital spooning. The script was written by the same writer of the first yet he seems to be playing connect the dots with his own formula.

What American Pie 2 does to separate itself as more enjoyable than the first is give the interesting characters the majority of the time and leave the least interesting sputtering for air. The interesting ones follow: Jim is a nice guy full of the same insecurities that plague a teenager and intimacy, and Biggs plays him as an everyman who somehow always seems to come into sadistic moments of embarrassment. With Jim’s wish to be more sexually adept he visits the infamous band camp and finds Michelle once again who agrees to coach him on techniques and pointers. Hanigan is given an incredible amount more of screen time and she’s glowing in every second of it.

Also the man-you-love-to-hate Stifler has a larger role leading his group of lakeside roommates into encounters with lesbians and other sexual calamities. Scott may be playing Stifler as a jerk but he’s entertaining and genuinely funny, and at one point you can’t help but root for the crass frat boy. Finch has learned that Stifler’s mom will be paying a visit to their cabin at the end of the summer and spends his time studying up on Tantra and Zen to fully explore his inner sexual prowess.

The entire cast from the first American Pie romp does return, though not everyone has equal time. Mena Suvari (still looking so young) leaves in the beginning of the film and then comes back at the very end. The insatiably annoying Reid (who has eyes that I can’t tell where her whites end and irises begin) thankfully is only in the film for two short scenes which leads me to question was she even necessary in the first place? Natasha Lyonne is only in scenes alongside Reid, so her stint in the sequel is equally as brief. Elizabeth’s role might be central to Jim’s quest for sexual fulfillment, but she only pops up in the last eight minutes of the film – and doesn’t show her breasts this time. Now that I think about it Klein and Nicholas really weren’t in the film too much either except for standing in the background while another character talked.

The soundtrack is a collection of every pop “punk” band that’s been playing on MTV since May of that year. It’s like the producers just watched the channel for a week and would point to the ones they wanted.

The film still is a mishmash of gross out sexual humor and sentimentality, but for some reason it’s a lot easier to swallow the second time around. For all its bodily fluids and crudeness, American Pie 2 has a stickily sweet secretly conservative old-fashioned heart. Though the makers would never tell you so. In a summer almost bankrupt on entertainment value I’ll leisurely take a slice of American Pie 2.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Loser (2000)

Jason Biggs came to fame by getting sexual healing from pastry and Mena Suvari for coming up roses besides Kevin Spacey. So now the two American Pie graduates embark on college in Loser, the latest offering by classic teen comedy director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless).

Loser tells the tale of a self-describe outcast Paul (Biggs) who ventures out of a rural town to the big bad city of New York for college education. Before he leaves he confides to his family his fear that everyone will be “like on Seinfeld.” Upon Paul’s arrival he’s deemed a laughable dolt by his fratboy roomies and even forced to live in an animal shelter. Paul has a difficult time adjusting to the new world until he meets a kindred spirit in the intriguing Dora (Suvari) one day in class. Dora herself is a struggling student not fitting in easily. She even has a secret tryst with her professor played by Greg Kinnear.

All of the characters in Loser other then its leads are one-dimensional cartoons. Paul’s dorm mates start off as mean-spirited brats but then unsettlingly become attempted date rapists with plans involving roofies. Am I the only one bothered that their actions are never dealt with but glossed over? Dora’s relationship with Kinnear only cheapens the intelligence of her character. From the beginning he is a smarmy jerk (as are most in Loser) whose most romantic line consists of “Would you please sit there and just not talk.” What woman wouldn’t fall for someone like that?

Loser is no outright loser though. It does have its funny moments and starts off well enough. Paul and Dora are sweet characters that keep our interest. Kinnear plays a snide jerk well. But somewhere in the middle Loser shifts from what it could have been into what it reluctantly is.

Biggs and Suvari are the only nice people on screen, and it makes little sense that in a world of hipsters that these two would put up with all of their abuse and not see one another. It’s obvious that they should be together except to them, so it’s just a matter of time before they hug and kiss. The movie is basically a waiting game to see when Suvari is going to wise up.

Heckerling has been a strong force for many an influential teen comedy but her latest effort seems like she lost interest somewhere within. Loser had the possibility of being the Clueless for the not-so-in-crowd but instead mimics the title far more than intended.

Nate’s Grade: C

American Pie (1999)

 

I may be a lone voice in a sea of opposition but I’ll say that I really didn’t laugh much at this latest teen sex romp. I wanted to laugh more than I did, oh I did, but it never really transpired. The movie throws together out of place gross-out gags and false sentimentality. The entire thing was predictable and for the most part stale. I may be over-analyzing a teen sex comedy, but that’s what I had to do with the time where I wasn’t laughing. The creators of this seem to imply that gals who don’t put out aren’t worthwhile or even cool. I could never feel for any of the characters or relate because they were all so shallow. There are some humorous scenes in this flick but they are few and far between. Many of the jokes just fall flat. Overall I could say I was greatly disappointed with American Pie and hope that the most innovative joke in the next teen sex comedy isn’t played to death in commercials and turned into a tagline. Are you listening Universal marketing team?

Nate’s Grade: C

 

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