“American Reunion,’ the fourth film in the series that began with the 1999 sleeper comedy hit “American Pie,” is a pretty transparent nostalgia exercise that never veers from formula and takes no risks. But it’s still exceptionally funny and enjoyable.
The first film, coming a year after “There’s Something About Mary,” took that film’s combination of gross-out sex gags and earnest romance, and applied it to the “Porky’s”-style teen sex comedy. The formula was replicated in the year’s afterward by two sequels, several more direct-to-video spinoffs, plus various imitators that mostly forgot to include the heart part while jumping straight for the penis-and-boobies gags. (The Onion memorably parodied the phenomenon soon after the first film’s release).
“American Reunion” brings the action back to the Michigan suburb where it all began, as the characters return for their 13-year (?) high school reunion. Nerd hero Jim (Jason Biggs) has married band-camp girl Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and they have a two-year-old son and not much of a sex life. Oz (Chris Klein) is a sportscaster who never shook high school love Heather (Mena Suvari), while Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is now married and bearded. Also still around are Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Stifler (Seann William Scott) and, of course, Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge.)
Looking over those names, you may notice that most of them- with the exception of Scott and Hannigan- don’t have much of a career anymore, and even Scott and Hannigan have pretty much been playing their “American Pie” characters for the last decade.
In some cases its understandable- neither Suvari or Tara Reid has much of an on-screen presence, while Nicholas’ career peaked with “Rookie of the Year.” Biggs, though, probably deserves another crack at a comedy movie career, while Eddie Kaye Thomas, in his adult incarnation, has promise as a weird supporting actor. I’d love to see him play a bit part on “Breaking Bad,” or something.
The new film follows the formula of its predecessors to the letter: there are a few farcical, centerpiece gags, mostly centered around the sexual humiliation of the Biggs character, including awkward sex chats with his dad (a never-better Eugene Levy) and a nubile neighbor (newcomer Ali Cobrin) who’s throwing herself at him for some reason.
The only difference this time is that there’s growing acknowledgement that the characters are well into adulthood and the days of carefree partying are just about over. And while obsession with sex and boobs are perpetually at the forefront, the film is clear about its underlying values: love, monogamy and male friendship are what is truly important in life.
“American Reunion” is directed by Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz- the team that wrote the first “Harold and Kumar” and directed the second- and they mostly handle the material well. The big set pieces are mostly hilarious, and the dialogue is always pretty funny too- there’s a joke about Ricky Martin that was the hardest I’ve laughed at anything in quite awhile. And the Klein character is a veteran of a “Dancing With the Stars”-like reality show, leading to a running gag- every middle-aged woman he meets wants to jump his bones- that never stops being hilarious.
And speaking of which, there’s a very funny callback about the word “MILF” which, in case you forgot, was coined by the first movie.
No, not everything works. One sequence, in which two characters slip off to have sex at a party- and change into bondage gear- makes no sense at all. And there’s a joke about someone walking in on gay sex in a sports team’s showers that, in light of the Penn State scandal, absolutely should not have stayed in the movie.
The producers swear “American Reunion” is the last “American Pie,” and if that’s the case it’s a fitting ending. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the film is funny enough to justify its existence.