Friday, April 20, 2012

A flawed, but funny 'Reunion'

"American Reunion," the third sequel to "American Pie," is a surprisingly pleasant experience, but, like actual reunions, some things will never be the same.

To say "American Pie" was groundbreaking is perhaps too strong, but it was something fresh and different. Teen sex comedies gained popularity in the 1980s with films like "Porky's." Those films viewed woman purely as sex objects to be ogled. The antedote for these films were John Hughes' smart and funny films about teens. By the 1990s, teen films, with few exceptions, had simply become bland, watered-down versions of Hughes' films.

So, when "American Pie" came out in summer 1999 it was quite unexpected. The humor was raunchier than anything else out at the time, but there were also actual characters and the women were equal opportunity participants in the randy activities. For a film about teen guys trying to lose their virginity, there was sincerity and even tender moments. Like a good pie, it was a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

The sweetness still remains in "American Reunion," which has our horny friends attending their high school reunion, but, disappointingly the woman are no longer equal partners in the exploits and feel sidelined to just being wives, girlfriends or things to objectify.

Former band camp girl, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), one of the most loveable characters in the series, in particular feels ignored. Hannigan also doesn't seem interested in even recreating the character. Michelle's endearing speech pattern is gone as Hannigan essentially plays the role as Lily, her character from the show "How I Met Your Mother."

Every major cast member from the first film has returned, even if only for a quick, sometimes forced, cameo. It is nice to catch up with these characters, but it is frustrating that a previous character arc for the crass Stifler (Seann William Scott) has been negated.

In "American Wedding," the womanizing, self-centered Stifler finally met a girl that he actually cared about and, for the first time in three movies, showed some humanity. Clearly, writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who are making their debut in the series, didn't want a neutered Stifler, but it undermines the character. Like in "American Wedding," Stifler learns to be less of a jerk. We've seen it before and it feels stale.

The only other major thing going against the film is an uncomfortable subplot involving a girl the forever awkward, and now married, Jim (Jason Biggs) used to babysit. The now 18-year-old girl admits to having a crush on Jim and that she wants to lose her virginity to him. The plot is used for cheap laughs and nudity when it could've been explored with a bit more sensitivity. I know that seems like an odd request for an "American Pie" film, but these films always had a healthy dose of heart.

All that negativity aside, there are a lot of very big laughs in the film that are worth the price of admission. The way Stifler gets revenge on a group of guys that sprayed him with Ski-Doos is hilarious.

There's also the invaluable Eugene Levy as Jim's dad, the provider of sage and always inappropriate advice. He was always the heart of these films. Now a widower, dad joins his son at their post-reunion party.

Watching Stifler get Levy drunk is priceless and results with Jim's dad meeting the infamous Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge). This is the highlight of the film. The next installment of the series should be called "American Parents" and focus on Levy and Coolidge.

I realize this seems like a harsh review, but I did in fact enjoy the film. I laughed heartily throughout. It was only after the fact that my complaints arose. I didn't regret seeing it, but reunions are always going to be a mixed bag of emotions. Fans of the series should definitely see it. Others should avoid.

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