Film Reviews

Michelle, Jim and Stifler are back for more.

Franchise comedy movies–meaning a stable of at least three or four films with related casts and plots–are rare, the most lucrative of the lot belonging to the American Pie collective, six and counting (two of these on direct-to-DVD). The newest, if not the freshest, is the current American Reunion, replete with scatology, cunnilingus, fellatio, infidelity, sex-with-food, major drunkenness and old jokes.

All this frank material began with the delightful There’s Something About Mary, which, almost miraculously, was good-natured, genuinely funny with a sunny disposition and no schmutz, courtesy of the Farrelly brothers as writers-directors. That was in l994. Then, in ’95, came, yes, American Pie, with a canny cast: eight alleged high schoolers in a plot whose frankness and raunch followed in the immediate good-natured wake of the penis-centric Mary, which was largely saved by Cameron Diaz’s dazzling unbesmirchable presence. Pie was plenty fleshier, and not good-natured, but it was obliquely innocent, in that the consequences of what they did were benign. It also had a terrific comic presence in Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind) as the father of one reveler (Jason Biggs, the best kid actor of the lot). Another of the over-age kiddos was Seann William Scott as Stifler, the Id of the group, an inspired performer in what looked like type casting.

Now, 13 years later, the same octet reappears, getting together before their high school reunion, some no longer single. Also returning is Eugene Levy, along with the great–great, do you hear?–Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s horny mother (from an earlier sequel), and a sexually ambiguous John Cho (of Harold and Kumar).

But guess what, ladies and gentlemen: This thing is rather quaint–we’ve seen it all before. It’s funny-ish, but not earth-shattering. The only departure (of sorts) is a little overt (glimpses, shards of images) same sexing–as if the filmmakers were uncomfortable with it. The new generation of raunchy movie has turned the American pie a little stale. It’s a new world out there, and dirtier.

But the backstory here is interesting: Both Biggs and Scott are executive producers of this one (meaning putting up some of the money). Biggs is the more successful of the two, having done other roles, in Woody Allen and other romantic comedies, to some acclaim. Scott, low on the acting totem pole, nonetheless was paid $5 million to play Stifler in the last sequel, we’re told. Wonder what he paid himself to take a dump in a beer case and spoil a picnic in this one.

Outstripped by The Bridesmaids (for one), our American pie, might finally have sliced itself too thin. One might even say it’s crumby.

These “kids” are 13 years out of high school; maybe it’s time to grow up.