Patently inferior sequel to franchise that stopped having something to say
If there was one film franchise that never really needed to be one, American Pie was it. After a trilogy that hit theatres to fairly remarkable box office receipts for an R-rated comedy series, and an entire line of direct to video sequels that managed to become hits in their own rights, American Pie was the sort of franchise that captured a specific moment in time. American Pie was a standard ‘90s sex comedy that embraced the ability of a cast of relative unknowns opposite a handful of known character actors with nothing to lose to craft a set of memorable if remarkably shallow characters.
With a fourth film, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg seem to be crafting a way of bringing the film franchise full circle and give it a more fitting ending than American Wedding could. This is an opportunity for four actors who never really moved beyond the limited amount of fame these films gave them to anything bigger and better to get one more chance in the limelight. Unfortunately it’s easily the weakest film in the series.
When we first met Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) they were high school seniors looking to lose their virginity before the year was out. Stifler (Seann William Scott) was their jerk friend but he came in and out of the film sporadically; the film was really about four separate character arcs of four friends figuring out what love and sex were all about. They had fairly one note characters, archetypes of typical high school students, and the joy in the film (if you could call it that) was that it called to a universal experience of young lust. We could understand the motivations of these guys on a certain scale, at least, because of this shared experience of our youth.
They were given poorly written characters that didn’t make us care about them at all, unfortunately, and it creates all sorts of problems for this film. The universality of the time frame and of the moment is something people could understand, at least. Now in the fourth film we find them as adults trying to come to terms with the fact that they aren’t kids anymore. Jim married his high school sweetheart (Alyson Hannigan) and is now a family man in a relatively sexless marriage. His father (Eugene Levy) is now a widower reflecting on the life that was. Oz became a famous sportscaster and is beloved by some because of an appearance on a reality show. Kevin works from home in a relationship dominated by his wife. Finch is trying to come to terms with his life. Stifler is now the victim of guys acting like he did as a teenager.
Coming together for their high school reunion, a 13th because they missed their 10th (a nice nod to continuity), the guys now have to deal with the problems of being an adult while trying to recapture their youth in one weekend. They’ve all changed and remained friends but they aren’t the same people anymore; part of what could’ve made this film much better than it is focuses on another shared experience of growing up and having friendships change because the people involved in them do. It’s criminally underutilized as the film focuses more on the usual sort of gross-out gags and sexual shenanigans the franchise entails. You have the makings of what could be a fairly interesting comedy about growing older, and growing up ready to be exploited.
What you get, however, is a film that feels desperate.
American Reunion is desperate to try and recapture the lightning in a bottle from the first film. Pulling out a number of easy to see gags, as well as variants on ones used in both this franchise as well as in Harold & Kumar (from which writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg come from), this film doesn’t have anything interesting to say when it comes to the big notion of adulthood minimized the accomplishments of youth.
There are some wonderful small moments in the film, especially when it comes to Stifler, in terms of how the film handles being just another adult as opposed to the king of the small world of high school. The problem is that the film bypasses this interesting story for poor humor and lame gags repeatedly; this feels like a collection of rejected gags for Harold & Kumar 4: This Time It’s Personal as opposed to new material to work with.
It becomes a major problem because the film doesn’t have a base of strong characters to work with. Oz, Jim, Finch, Stifler and Kevin were never well written or developed in the first place. They were just basic stereotypes of high school students, nothing more, and didn’t have much behind them to make us care about them on anything more than a cursory level. That’s ok for one film about teenagers but this is the fourth film and we have nothing substantial about the characters to make us care about them getting older.
It’s a collection of poor gags, nothing more, and when the most interesting and funny part of the film involves Eugene Levy being the film’s sole source of both dramatic and comedic heft then something’s wrong. American Reunion wants us to revisit beloved characters one more time in order to understand the nature of big things like mortality and aging; we all want to be cool, young and thing again.
The problem is that besides the sort of naval-gazing wanderlust the film provides for a plot there’s nothing else with any sort of heft to it. This is just a film made for nostalgia purposes, nothing more. Chris Klein, Jason Biggs, Thomas Ian Nichols and Eddie Kaye Thomas are probably going to be forever known for characters from this film franchise than anything else. While Seann William Scott has become the biggest star of the group, mainly for variants of Stifler, the film shows you really can’t go home again.
Writer / Director: Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg Notable Cast: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nichols, Seann William Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, Jon Cho, Diana Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Ali Cobrin, Chuck Hittinger