** stars (out of 4 stars)
Reviewed by: Frank Ochieng
It is hard to believe that thirteen years ago a revolutionary and raunchy comedy called American Pie was unleashed on moviegoers willing to indulge them with its low brow hormonal high jinks and other nuanced naughtiness. Now American Reunion makes its way back into our cinematic consciousness after three previous installments and a few faceless straight-to-video knock-offs. So the question remains: are we ready to relive the off-kilter cheeky antics of the Pie gang as thirty-something wonders in the wake of reminiscing about their titillating tendencies from yesteryear?
When American Pie hit the big screen in 1999 it was an insane and irreverent laugher that surprisingly refreshed and revitalized the gross-out teen comedy genre. Nowadays, the concept of injecting more profane pithy Pie slices of tawdriness through American Reunion feels somewhat strained and incidental. One can see the need to revisit the nostalgic madness of an unconventional bunch that included memorable personalities ranging from the Levenstein father-son combo to crazed cut-up Steve Stifler. However, American Reunion is much like your kooky Uncle Phil he was hip and happening in his heyday but now his same act is pointless and in danger of overstaying his welcome.
Co-director/writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar) show some enthusiasm in trying to recapture the mindless magic but the film never rises above its minimal madcap display of recycled jokes, a run-of-the-mill formulaic screenplay and funny bits that register in noted ambivalence. Although the actors are probably thrilled to be walking in the shoes of their fictional alter egos once again they are let down by the lackluster energy of their characterizations. Only Seann William Scotts Steve Stifler (who was the breakout icon of this movie series) is the consistent funny element that shines brightly in this otherwise staid fourth edition of the American Pie universe.
The premises set up is such that the Pie crew from East Great Falls High School Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas)reunite for the big reunion weekend. They all seem to be encountering some sort of obstacles in their romantic and professional lives. Only Stifler seems true to form as he has no woman to fuss over nor does he give a flying fish about his job. In other words, Stifler is just being Stifler he is indifferent to whatever confronts him and answers to his self-motivated whims.
The running gag, presumably, is that these aging guys are channeling their horndog personas even more so than years ago when they were adolescent perverts looking to score some tawdry action. Seemingly, life has been rather stillborn for the gang looking to spice up their doldrums thanks to their entrapment in the world of adulthood: marriage, child-rearing, unfulfilling job prospects, mortgages and monthly bills.
The once celebrated hunky athletic Oz is now a sportscaster that secretly resents the younger sports stars basking in the spotlight. Oz's only trophy appears to be his wacky model girlfriend (Katrina Bowden of TV s 30 Rock). Architect Kevin and his spouse are reduced to embracing the Real Housewives TV programs as their mindless and escapist release. Oddball Finch opines about his worldly travels as a man about adventures. And investment office worker Stifler (a.k.a. The Stifmeister) is still the rambunctious and sex-crazed misfit who's still immersed in his cockeyed foolishness.
As for Jim Levenstein well his silent frustration stems from the fact that he married high school sweetie Michelle (Alyson Hannigan from TV's long-running How I Met Your Father) and that he cannot seem to enjoy a robust sex life due to his intrusive and rowdy two-year old toddler. Jim, who famously poked a pastry for sexual satisfaction, now has to resort to getting his jollies watching porn on a laptop (for which his hyperactive tyke spoils that experience as well). Plus, Jim must fight off the horny urge to gravitate towards his curvaceous 18-year old neighbor Kara (Ali Cobrin) a young woman he used to babysit. The unsuspecting laptop almost chopping off Jim's love log and his attraction to a teen neighboring nymphet these gags are creepy than they are comical in spirit.
American Reunion awkwardly touches upon the adage that one can never return to the innocence of one's youthful indiscretions. The transitioning from carefree teen at the very end of the twentieth century to juggling responsibility as an overwrought 30ish adult in the millennium years could have been a treasured revelation had the movie bothered to explore this sentiment more convincingly. Instead, the tired and all-too-familiar mockery in Reunion feels feeble. Drinking binges, Stifler-esque retaliation on former tormentors, clashes with today's punks versus the prehistoric punks from yesterday, the let's get laid mantra it's all slammed together in one big contrived chuckle that is irritatingly trivial.
Thankfully, there are a few off-kilter saving grace moments that do uplift parts of this fledging farce. Veteran performers Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge are back as Jim's exasperated drunk dad and Stifler's stoned oversexed mom as they come together in party-hearty mode and get freaky. A touching subplot showcases Oz's emotional bond with old galpal Heather (Mena Suvari) whose romantic commitment to a self-absorbed physician ruins any chance the former jock can rekindle his feelings for his old flame.
Languishing film franchises such as the American Pie segments do not know when to hang up their party hat once the lights are turned off. High school reunions understandably are a curiosity worth exploring to some extent. But in American Reunion it is sometimes a good idea to skip the festivities and relive the frolic where it aptly belongs back in the late nineties where romancing a pastry pie and peaking through keyholes seemed shamelessly chic and unique.