The SmarK DVD Rant For American Wedding

The SmarK DVD Rant for American Wedding

– American Pie was one of those weird series that really kind of snuck up on me — I dismissed the first movie during its initial run in theatres as just another raunchy teen sex comedy, which it kind of was, but catching it on DVD revealed a movie that had an actual heart behind the gross-out jokes, and was enough to lure me into the theatre for the second part. After the somewhat disappointing performance of that sequel, I kind of figured they’d let things rest there and everyone would move on, but an unexpected second sequel was put into the hands of a new director, with decidedly improved results.

The Film

Okay, I’m assuming you’re at least vaguely familiar with the idea of the first two movies — lovable loser Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) searches for sex (and love, maybe) while constantly finding himself in increasingly embarrassing situations, while having to deal with a crew of annoying, but well-meaning, friends.

Whereas the first two movies were an ensemble effort from a large cast of then-unknown teen heartthrobs, budget considerations and a maturing screenwriter necessitated some changes to the casting this time around.

Firstly, the female presence here is cut down dramatically. The expensive and extraneous couple played by Chris Klein and Mena Suvari is gone, and good riddance to them. As much as I love Mena, their subplot felt tacked onto American Pie 2 and could have been lifted from the movie entirely if they wanted to save a few bucks. In this case, they did, and they’re not missed. Speaking of not being missed, the first movie was marketed around Tara Reid’s sexpot act, but after ex-boyfriend Kevin let her go for good in the second movie, she also became dead weight to the story and could easily be jettisoned. Ditto for Natasha Lyonne, her annoying best friend from the first two movies. And with Jim in a relationship, dream babe Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) is also not longer needed.

Now at this point, what you’re left with in most cases is a C-movie direct-to-video sequel “from the makers of” the originals. However, the filmmakers had a secret weapon in this case. With the fat trimmed (most of it — Thomas Ian Nicholas is retained as Kevin and is largely a useless character who could have been cut just as easily) they were left with a sharp focus on the remaining trio of major characters — Jim, Finch and Stifler — and it’s a FAR better movie for that decision. In fact, given a situation where he needs to step up and carry nearly 1/3 of a major movie, Seann William Scott hits one out of the park as the obnoxious Steve Stifler. For better or worse, this is HIS movie, and your enjoyment of it will largely hinge on how funny you find him in it.

I find it interesting that the expanded roles for all three characters has left them reenacting the classic Freudian psyche. Jim is the ego — the main character who we relate to. Finch is the superego, there to exert rules and order (which is why it’s not surprising that he’s into Tantric sex and Tai Chi). And Stifler is the id, the part of the psyche that acts on instinct and says whatever comes to its mind. In fact, at one point in the movie there’s a joke about Stifler saying something out loud that he only intended to think. That the three characters mesh so well together shouldn’t be surprising, then.

The story setup is delightfully uncomplicated this time around — Jim is marrying girlfriend Michelle, and everything goes wrong on the way to the wedding. His primary concern is keeping Stifler away from the reception, but apparently some feelings do bubble under the surface of Stifler’s obnoxious demeanor, because he’s hurt by Jim’s refusal to acknowledge him as a friend (which he expresses in his own profane way), whereas Jim is just worried about him putting the moves on Michelle’s virginal younger sister Cadence. From here begins another unexpectedly effective plot twist, as Stifler transforms himself into a polite and proper doppelganger to win her affections, while arch-enemy Finch takes the opposite tact and becomes more like the Stifmeister. The resulting duel of wits is actually the most entertaining part of the movie, and the best running gag.

Jim, for his part, is stuck with the eternal problem — meeting the parents and trying not to be a total screwup around them. Unfortunately, being Jim, that ends up being impossible, especially when his friends plan a stripper-filled bachelor party for him at the same time as a formal dinner to impress Michelle’s parents. Jim also learns that personal grooming and air vents don’t mix.

Sure, it’s all a paint-by-numbers Three’s Company episode with more swearing at first glance, but there’s some real heart here. Especially in the performance of Eugene Levy as Jim’s unnamed dad, who is unerringly accepting and supportive of his son, no matter what stupid things he does to himself or others. A meaner movie might have played the father as more of the yelling type, but Jim’s Dad just rolls with whatever punches come at him and does his best to guide Jim through them. The message is clear: We’ve all been there, kiddo.

I think that’s why the movie works so well — it’s not ironic and mean-spirited at all. Stifler really does have to change to win over Cadence, and after making an ass of himself, he does something truly selfless and heartfelt to show that Jim’s friendship actually is important to him. Finch and Stifler attack each other verbally and physically throughout the movie, but it’s all played in good fun and deep down they’re obviously friends. It’s a strange mix of crude vulgarity and real emotions that never feels forced or overdone, thanks to the talents of the people involved.

A word, however, on the “extended” version that’s provided by the DVD.

Basically it’s another few minutes of scenes and a longer cut of the bachelor party, and neither approach works in the least. The extra scenes slow the movie down a lot, and the extended party is WAY too long and feels slapped-together. Less is more with these sorts of comedies, and taking too long with scenes forces the viewer to stop and think, and that’s not good.

Luckily Universal includes both versions of the movie on the DVD, so I’d personally pick the theatrical cut and leave the inferior extended version on the cutting room floor, where it belongs.

At any rate, this is a hilarious and warm movie that will both offend you at the same time as it’s tugging your heart-strings, much like the better works of the Farrelly Brothers. In fact, most of the gross-out gags (most notably involving Stifler eating dog shit) seem tacked on to satisfy the original audience. Hey, we’ve grown up a bit, maybe it’s time the filmmakers did, too. I bet they could even get a fourth movie out of the series by mining a potential pregnancy angle. Really, this stuff writes itself when it’s handled right.

The Video

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (and why is a comedy shot in scope, anyway?), this is actually a pretty dark transfer, as I found that although the quality of the picture was good, it was just too shadowed in a lot of places where I didn’t remember any shadows in the theater. I’m not sure what happened, but the deleted scenes, for instance, look fine, so the problem is obviously in the transfer and not the source material. It’s not really distracting or overly noticeable most of the time, but it’s there.

The Audio

Dolby Digital 5.1, although again why studios are burning disc space with 448kps soundtracks for movies where the characters never leave the center channel is beyond me. At least they didn’t waste a DTS mix on it. This is fine, but it’s basically just a glorified stereo soundtrack and that’s all the movie needs.

The Extras

Quite a bit, actually. The marketing wizards at Universal have put the bulk of the behind-the-scenes stuff on an entirely separate three-hour DVD covering all three movies (and once again screwing over the people who re-bought the first two movies with the “Underneath the Crust” bonus disc, because it’s all on the new one in addition to stuff pertaining to the third movie). What remains on the movie disc is more along the outtakes/deleted scenes route. You get

– Two commentaries, one featuring the director and Seann William Scott, and the other featuring Jason Biggs, Allyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas & Thomas Ian Nicholas. I flipped between them throughout the movie, because there’s frequent dead spots in both of them, and they probably could have just edited them both into one commentary. Both are funny, with the people goofing around and joking about each other, although there’s surprisingly more info imparted by the actor track than the director track.

– Deleted scenes, about 20 minutes worth, all of which suck and were rightly snipped for time and pacing reasons. The writer, Adam Herz, explains the cuts for each one, which was nice.

– Outtakes, the usual flubbed lines and the like.

– Speaking Stifler, a focus on you-know-who. Lots of funny stuff with Scott talking about the evolution of his character and some hilarious alternate takes of the deleted hotel lobby scene. Dare I say this character could probably carry the right movie on his own.

– Enter the Dominatrix, a fluff piece about the actress who played one of the strippers at the bachelor party.

– Grooming the Groom, another fluff piece (literally) about the process of making fake pubic hair and shooting the scene.

– Cheesy Wedding Video, which is pretty much what is sounds like. Jim & Michelle do the wedding in character.

– Plus the usual cast & crew notes and the like.

No real complaints about the extras here. I’m surprised they didn’t include a music video from the great soundtrack like they did with the first two movies, but rights issues are getting to be a bitch these days so it’s understandable.

The Ratings

The Film: ****
The Video: ***
The Audio: ***
The Extras: ***1/2