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American Reunion Is Stale Awfulness, Trying To Relive Former Glory

American Reunion
Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg based on characters by Adam Herz
Universal, 2012

I realize studios want to go into their back catalog of films that were popular once and see if they can continue the magic, but these movies like Scream 4 and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and the forthcoming Men In Black 3 illustrate how much has changed from their heyday to now.  The humor of 1999’s American Pie, one of the movies responsible for ushering naughty R-rated comedies back into vogue in the next decade, looks like something on the left of the evolutionary chart when it comes to comedy today.  There might be some charm in all of it, but Harold & Kumar directors Hurwitz and Schlossberg can’t seem to find it.

First off, the actors in this movie are ones you won’t see in any other movie in this era.  Jason Biggs had his shot, and he kind of faded out.  Mena Suvari was in American Pie and American Beauty in the same year, but couldn’t cash that in.  Tara Reid became a tabloid regular but even that faded.  Chris Klein is best known as the guy who nearly married Katie Holmes before Tom Cruise came along.  Thomas Ian Nicholas is still the Rookie of the Year to me.  Eddie Kaye Thomas has done some voice work for Seth MacFarlane and occasionally appears in a movie or two.  Alyson Hannigan is responsible for the single-most quoted line from American Pie, but her work in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and How I Met Your Mother sort of distances her from this series.  Seann William Scott has made the most of his opportunities: he was hilarious in Role Models.  And remember John Cho’s “MILF” performance from the first one?  Cho never became a big name, but chances are you love him in everything he does, and he’s still pretty hilariously named “MILF Guy #1″ here.

This is the fourth of the American Pie movies, not counting the straight-to-video sequels.  We had 1999’s original, American Pie 2 in 2001, and finally, American Wedding in 2003, which means it’s been 9 years since the last one.  Since 2003, the Judd Apatow/David Wain style of comedy has taken over, along with YouTube and Funny or Die sensibilities, and TV shows like Parks and Recreation, Community, and the like.  I’m not opposed to having an old-school Porky’s-style comedy, which is what American Pie sort of threw back to, but when your characters are clearly not as interesting, not as curious about sex anymore, are trying to live in an age of responsibility, then you’ve sucked a lot of the life out of the possible comedy.  It would have been better just to have a few of these guys stuck in arrested development, not married or have kids, and be more, you know, like Stifler (Seann William Scott).

But that’s what these characters are, they’re trying to settle down or are settled down.  Jim (Biggs) and Michelle (Hannigan) are married and have a newborn.  Kevin (Nicholas) is married.  Oz (Klein) is a cheesy sportscaster, dating the superhot Mia (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden), and even appeared on a dancing reality show where he lost to Gilbert freaking Gottfried.  Finch (Thomas) has apparently been abroad getting into adventures.  And Stifler is the only arrested development case here.  He’s still the same dude, trying to make it in some financial firm.  They’re all brought together by a…12 year reunion.  They explain this by saying the school somehow missed the 10-year, but whatever the case is, it’s stupid.

By the way, Stifler…in the last movie, American Wedding, he was sort of breaking out of his Stifler-ness when he met Michelle’s younger sister Cadence (played by a pre-Mad Men, pre-before-we-knew-she-was-crazy January Jones).  Here, they just sort of forget she ever happened, which is a shame because there could have been a tearing-down-the-fourth-wall Mad Men joke explaining her disappearance.  It would have been nice to see the movie acknowledge that, but I guess we want Stifler to be Stifler.  What might have been really interesting is to see Stifler being a dad but still being Stifler, and he somehow found a way to be more responsible than his buds over the years.

Anyway, the reunion.  Everyone’s coming back to town.  Jim’s crisis is that a girl he used to babysit is now a hot soon-to-be-18-year-old (Ali Cobrin) who seems to want him badly.  This coming in the middle of a sexual rut between he and Michelle.  Kevin sees old gal pal Vicky (Reid) and it conjures up some old feelings.  Oz sees old gal pal Heather (Suvari) with a new guy, Dr. Ron, or “Dron” (Jay Harrington), and they seem to want to rekindle their old high school romance.  Finch wants to get with ugly-duckling-turned-swan Selena (Dania Ramirez) but is trumping up his adventures (lying) to get with her.

Jim’s dad (Eugene Levy) is a widower, now spouting out marriage advice, and it looks like he might have a chance with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge).

Of course all of these situations come to a head and force the men now in their 30’s to face their responsibilities and grow up.  The problem is, it isn’t funny at all.  In fact, every situation, when it comes to the breaking point, is so dreadful to watch it brings it into How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days territory.  Movies have a long tradition of putting characters in situations where the breaking point is so heightened that it doesn’t even make sense as drama.  In American Reunion, these scenes are just brutal.  Simple conversation would easily end the conflict, but there’s always someone who just doesn’t want to hear it and storms off.

The comedy is incredibly forced, and there are of course a lot of throwbacks to the other movies, a sort of “remember when this was funny?” cavalcade of old jokes.  You could dispose of Oz and Kevin and all their story lines and the movie would be 30% improved.  If there had been an honest look at all of these characters and went for more interesting angles rather than just pure nostalgia, this could have been something special.  But I guess when you have three successful movies from 9 years-plus ago, it’s tough trying to reinvent yourself with more of the same.

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