The AMERICAN PIE films never really made much of a connection with me, not because they’re especially bad, but because I was the wrong age (a bit young) when they first came out. I’ve watched the original trilogy since, and they’re all fine, they’re funny enough and even have a little heart. I’ve even seen the first ten minutes of spin-off THE NAKED MILE, which was easily one of the worst things I’ve ever, ever clapped my eyes on. A decade or so on, let’s see what the guys and gals are up to.
A school reunion for the class of ’99 prompts Jim (Jason Biggs), Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Sean William Scott) to return home to reconnect over a trip down memory lane. Some want to repeat the same highschool hijinks of their youth, while others have the pressures of relationships, children and bumping into old flames to contend with.
From a clever first gag which subverts our expectations about a rhythmically bouncing bed, we quickly return to the kind of elaborate embarrassing set pieces the series is most famous for. People get their bits out at inopportune times, shag when they shouldn’t, and pull revolting prank after revolting prank on one another. In other words, it’s business as usual in American Pie land.
The film’s presentation is admittedly slicker than it ever was – it’s decently filmed and edited, and a certain amount care in craft is in evidence (just look at the re-introduction to one of the all-time greatest movie jerks) but surely it should be more consistently funny, better performed, or at least just not boring to watch?
Of course, being a celebratory film of sorts, you’ve got to pay dues to what has come before. There’s references to the greatest hits of the series so far, and I think we’re supposed to feel some kind of nostalgic warmth at these points, though whether that happens or not entirely depends on your involvement with, your affection for, the Pie series so far. Not a lot about the characters has changed with the passage of time, even with the addition of family and career responsibilities, they’re basically the same people (though Finch is now cool). Maybe that’s the point, that you’re basically always the same person you were in young adulthood, but it would have been nice to see some development. The one who seems to have matured the most is Michelle, though Hannigan’s character is mostly sidelined to give more screentime to the boys, who are still horny teens, just bigger horny teens.
Eugene Levy as Jim’s Dad is still the best thing in it (still miraculously looking exactly the same after ten years), and is responsible for all elements of poignancy, and perhaps the only self-aware joke in the film – when Jim has come home and is rooting through his old porn mags, his dad explains that he didn’t throw them out because they have “too much sentimental value”. This kind of sums up the new instalment, almost ironically claiming to be able to remind us of a better time, a movie franchise we’re supposed to have affection for, but really it was only ever a sleazy (though undeniable) half-pleasure. Jim’s Dad is also responsible for prompting the only real belly laugh in the film when, for his online dating profile picture, he changes from a checked shirt to a plain shirt to appear “sexier”.
There’s a line about doing all the same things again, talking about how it’ll be just as enjoyable a time this time round. That’s a bit of a lie in terms of how the story pans out, and it’s a misleading description of the film as a whole. AMERICAN PIE 2 is still the best in the franchise, with the filthiest and funniest guffaws on offer, and even that wasn’t great. Here, we just get all the same jokes repeated, and token attempts to address the fact that everyone’s that bit older, and “kids today” seem wilder and more sexually liberated. Oh, and there’s a really out-of-the-blue reference to APOCALYPSE NOW in there as well, which is…interesting.
Apart from the central group, I’m struggling to recall whether or not half of the supporting characters were in the original series. Have I just forgotten them, are they the same people recast, or were the teen object of Kevin Spacey’s lust in AMERICAN BEAUTY and Callisto from X-MEN: THE LAST STAND really in the earlier American Pie films? (OK, now I’ve checked – Mena Suvari was, Dania Ramierez wasn’t). The main characters are all still pretty likable (apart from Stifler who’s still a massive [insert sexual expletive here]) and you sort of care what happens to them. It’s just a shame that not a whole lot of note does this time. You know that the apple cart will be rocked, but you also know that the status quo will be neatly restored again before long.
I hope no-one is tempted to churn out another of these things for a while. Maybe in another 15 years, when Jim can fully inherit the dad role, there might be something fairly interesting to explore there, but at this stage it might seem a little unnecessary and certainly a desperate move. Oh, they’re already making a sequel due for release next year? That’s just sad. SSP