American Reunion (2012)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, John Cho, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy, Natasha Lyonne, Ali Cobrin, Dania Ramirez, Katrina Bowden, Jay Harrington, Chuck Hittinger, Shannon Elizabeth, Chris Owen, Charlene Amoia, Vik Sahay, Neil Patrick Harris.
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Director: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg
Rating: R

Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2012
Home Video Release Date: July 10, 2012
Box Office: $56.8 Million
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Universal Pictures.

Written by: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, based on characters created by Adam Herz.

“High school was awesome… ” – Oz (Chris Klein).Sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past.  In 1999, American Piewas innovative and groundbreaking comedy; balancing shocking and jaw-dropping comedic moments with a surprising and refreshing self-deprecating humor about itself.  While the ensemble of young actors were largely unknown at the time, audiences related to the anxieties depicted on screen, the insecurities of self-esteem and status in the shark tank of high school, and the constant wonder of experiencing “that first time.”

The juggernaut that was American Pie naturally led to American Pie 2, which was a repetitive and mostly enjoyable follow up, and then everything crashed and burned with the half-hearted and mandated American Wedding.  Chris Klein, who plays Chris “Oz” Ostreicher in these films, did not even take part in the Wedding, and despite $750 million grossed worldwide from the American Pie trilogy, everyone closed that chapter of their lives and moved on to new projects.  Except Eugene Levy.  Levy reprised his endearing role as Mr. Levenstein, father to his well-intentioned but constantly embarrassing son Jim (Jason Biggs) in four straight-to-video sequels to the American Pie franchise.  Was Jason Biggs in those films?  Absolutely not, but there was Levy, on set and amenable to anything the filmmakers wanted him to do.  By appearing in the new American Reunion, he has now appeared in all eight (?!?!)of these films.  Yes, technically, there are eight of these films now.

Almost a decade has passed since these characters were last, and mostly, together and in storyline, 13 years have passed since all of these characters graduated high school.  Behind-the-scenes, that also means a lot of once promising, but failed film careers exist amongst this cast.  These American Piefilms have seen a decent amount of retention in the years since they were playing theaters, but in all honesty, it is not like anyone was clamoring for this franchise to be brought back.

Well, except for Jason Biggs.  Chris Klein.  Eddie Kaye Thomas.  Thomas Ian Nicholas.  Mena Suvari.  Tara Reid.  Natasha Lyonne.  Shannon Elizabeth.  That kid who plays “The Sherminator.”  They need this…bad.

Only Alyson Hannigan (“How I Met Your Mother”), Seann William Scott (a steady stream of movie roles including the new “Goon”), Jennifer Coolidge (an unending stream of TV and film appearances), perhaps John Cho (Harold from the “Harold and Kumar” franchise),and the ubiquitous Eugene Levy have all successfully springboarded from these films and had sustainable careers.

Yeah, I guess I can see why this is back after all.

In American Reunion, the 1999 graduates are having their 13-year reunion, as apparently there was never a 10-year.  Jim and Michelle (Hannigan) are married with a 2-year old son, who has essentially ended their sex life together.  Oz (Klein) has a barely legal supermodel girlfriend, Mia (Katrina Bowden), who compliments his celebrity as a high profile sports anchor and castoff dancing celebrity show participant.  Finch (Thomas) has not been heard from in years and Kevin (Nicholas) is married, an architect, primarily working from home, who enjoys watching reality TV and shows like Gossip Girl with his wife every night. Stifler is still Stifler, but at the behest of his mother (Coolidge), Stifler has a new temp job working in a brokerage firm.

So there you go.  The premise is simple and the film does manage to pull virtually everyone back from the first two American Pie films and give them safe haven for approximately 110 minutes or so.  The chemistry these guys share is undeniable and for a little while, it is easy to like the comfortable manner in which everyone interacts and reconnects.  Rather quickly though, the screenplay by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (writers of the “Harold and Kumar” series) misfires and sputters, refurbishing old scenes and set-ups for a new audience.  Jim may be naked in the kitchen again, but this time, nothing is left to nuance or insinuation.

Like the careers of many of those who appear in this film, American Reunion seems desperate and hungry; hungry to find a spark that will either kickstart these characters into a new series of misadventures and wackiness, or provide the actors in the cast with one last shot at A-list fame and glory.  Much like high school reunions, or the experience of many of my friends who have attended them, within a few minutes the awkwardness of years’ past resurfaces, the grandstanding and exaggerations come into play, and everyone drowns the escalating uncomfortableness of it all with alcohol.  In this regard, American Reunion may work much better than I give it credit for.  However, like a spouse or partner attending a reunion with people they have never met before, this all wears really, really thin and quickly becomes a menacing bore.

There are moments that work here.  Seann William Scott’s Stifler makes the full circle back to the likable deviant he was in the first film and in several moments, Scott steals this film away from his counterparts, for better or worse.  Eugene Levy is always a welcome site, embodying Jim’s dad again with kindness and warmth, despite being saddled with a ridiculous montage, and one thankless scene over the end credits.  And sure, as a fan of the first film and most of the second film, I enjoyed having the chance to see everyone return and appear together one more (last?) time.

I recognize that American Reunion is intended to be, and rightfully so, a ribald and raunchy comedy.  In retrospect, the intangibles that set American Pie apart as something different and unique, and what all the sequels and knockoff wannabes fail to recognize, is that at its core, American Pie was genuine, real, and relatable to virtually everyone.  No, we likely never had intimacy with a freshly baked apple pie, but we also never quite knew where we stood in our cliques and social circles and American Pie captured that uneasiness extremely well.  The uncertainty of coming-of-age responsibly and the constant fear or ridicule and need for acceptance spoke to a great number of viewers.

So it is with great disappointment that I report that nothing that made the first film great is brought back here.  The female characters are relegated to either taking a backseat completely to the male characters, or, when given the spotlight, are depicted as nothing more than vapid, sexually-starved beings who live on a diet of alcohol and sex.  This is not every female found in the film, but true for those who are put front and center for any considerable time.  The screenplay is a huge letdown and as a result, American Reunion fails to click in almost every conceivable way.

I wanted this to work.  I wanted lightning to be recaptured in that 1999 bottle all over again.  At the end of the day, American Reunion is about as honest and entertaining a film as the guy or girl who returns to your class reunion and tells amazing stories of traveling the world, experiencing extraordinary adventures, namedropping famous people, while drenched in a choking stench of overpriced cologne or perfume.  Within minutes, you see right through them and share in the breathing in of their desperation, anxiety, fear, and sadness. As a matter of fact, American Reunion nails that experience perfectly..

Should I See It?

YES

Those with an affinity for the original American Pie films will be thrilled to see everyone back together again.

American Reunion has no shortage of explicit and raunchy humor, some of which works well and some of which works well for a new crowd, not familiar with the older (and better) first films in the series.

The chemistry is there in fleeting moments and Eugene Levy just makes things he appears in a little bit better.

NO

American Reunion rehashes old gags, taking them just a little bit farther, and in turn, makes this reunion seem desperate, shallow, and with ulterior motives.  Ultimately, if you are going to bring something back and reintroduce something as popular as the first three films in this franchise were, you should have a vision on making it better or unique again.  Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg focus on the easy and convenient and fail to find the emotion and character association that made the first film in this series so rewarding.

Those who like well-written and equally drawn female characters will recoil from this.  The way women are depicted here, they seemingly exist only as human beings who want to constantly drink and have sex.  Of course, they also have to defend themselves from not wanting to sleep with people as well.  In fact, the women in this movie are written in such an insulting way, it made me have a large disdain for the film as a whole.

Flat and uninspired, go back and watch the first American Pie to understand where the series was at its best and I suppose to understand why we are at movie #8 in the franchise.

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