Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On DVD: "American Reunion"

“C’mon guys, that was funny.” –Stiffler
“Maybe in high school it was funny.” –Jim

And there you have the trouble with American Reunion in a two-line nutshell, with this film that has gone to a tremendous amount of trouble to gather all of the players (no matter how minor) from the hit 1999 comedy, and has gone to no trouble at all to give them anything funny or interesting to do or say. Because such things seem important in matters of both nostalgia and comedic taste, I will stress my affection for the “original trilogy” of American Pie movies (the makers of Reunion are among those who would like to pretend that those endless direct-to-DVD sequels never existed), the first of which appeared when I was 23 years old—a touch older than its characters, sure, but right in the middle of its target audience. American Pie, American Pie 2, and American Wedding all delivered the expected jizz jokes and naked flesh, but they also had affection for the characters, a dash of heart, and the somewhat-revolutionary idea to float the notion that girls like sex too. They weren’t great movies—the storytelling was clunky and the serious romances were a drag—but they were fun. There’s precious little of that in display in American Reunion, which is about as strained and depressing a “comedy” as you’re likely to sit through. It’s not funny, it’s not human, and for a major studio tentpole release, it’s astonishingly lazy.

Oh, you’d like proof? The plot is, hand on the Bible, centered on East Great Falls High’s 13-year class reunion. “I know, they missed the ten-year by a couple,” notes ever-observant Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) early on, and the question must be asked: why not just have it take place at the ten-year reunion, and set it a couple of years ago, since there’s never been a 13-year high school reunion in the history of high schools? Maybe just keep a close eye on the cars and cell phones? Would that have been too much trouble? At any rate, the old gang flocks back for the festivities: Kevin, who’s now a househusband; Oz (Chris Klein), a TV sportscaster with a hard-partying girlfriend (Katrina Bowden); Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), continuing to cultivate his image as a cultured world traveler; and, of course Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), whose frisky sex life all but died after the birth of their son.

Men who are pushing thirty have very different problems than men trying to bust their cherries at senior prom, and an American Pie reunion film could easily have found some comedy—and pathos—in exploring those conflicts. Instead, presumably to lure the teenage audience that has embraced the films on DVD (rather than those who have aged with the characters), Universal hired writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, of the vulgar and puerile Harold and Kumar franchise, so you can pretty much kiss any ambition goodbye. As with those films, Hurwitz and Schlossberg’s strategy is to find the easiest (and usually grossest) punchline, and then drive directly into it. It’s all easily predictable, and more than a little desperate.

A couple of the performances are enjoyable—Biggs is (as ever) likably game, Thomas’s wry line readings still land gracefully, and it’s fun to watch Christopher Guest stock company members Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge paired up for the first time in this series. But even Levy’s schtick has gotten tiresome, and the picture’s attempt to recreate the format of the earlier films has, unfortunately, extended to the inclusion of woefully dull straight subplots for both Klein (with Mena Suvari) and Thomas (with Tara Reid, who summons up all the acting power she can for lines like “I’m glad you think so highly of me!”). And for all of this talk of getting everyone back, it should be noted that Natasha Lyonne, one of the funnier performers of the series, gets about four seconds of screen time, past the 90-minute mark, while Shannon Elizabeth gets even less (and later). Hurwitz and Schlossberg’s Harold and Kumar star John Cho (“MILF Guy #2” from the original), meanwhile, gets like five scenes. So much for nostalgia.

It’s possible to outgrow things like American Pie movies, and certainly the crude gags, shoddy filmmaking, and casual misogyny of the original trilogy would bother 36-year-old me more than they troubled 23-year-old me. There’s two ways to approach a belated sequel: a) by acknowledging that the characters have grown up, assuming that the audience has too, and acting accordingly, or b) by slapping together a shoddy, half-hearted reconstruction of what worked before, and assuming it will work again. There’s not a single honest laugh in American Reunion’s interminable 113 minutes. Trust me. I counted.

"American Reunion" is out today on DVD and Blu-ray.

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