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American Reunion: Time to break up this reunion

Posted: April 19, 2012 - 9:19am
AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Hopper Stone
In this image released by Universal Pictures, from left, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Chris Klein and Eddie Kaye Thomas are shown in a scene from “American Reunion.”

"American Reunion"
Universal Pictures
1 hour, 53 minutes

On the way home from seeing the mind-numbingly terrible return to the "American Pie" universe, "American Reunion," I called home to commiserate with my wife. "It was awful," I said. "I mean really, really awful." She, of course, said the same thing she always does in these situations: "Are you surprised?!" She has no sympathy.

It's a good point, though. I actually was surprised, but why? Teen sex comedies, though sometimes funny, aren't usually the kind of movies I gravitate to, so it's not like I had any real allegiance to this series. I remember thinking "American Pie" was kind of amusing and kind of dumb, and not nearly the amazing phenomenon it got credit for being. I looked back at my past reviews to try and get a sense of how the other two films in the series were received, and I was reminded that, while I hated "American Pie 2," "American Wedding," the third, and supposedly final, film in the series was sweet and funny and actually pretty good. Yes, it was nine years ago, but it was the last "American" thing I saw. So that's why I was surprised.   

The current film's plot finds all the major players entering their 30s. Apparently, the first couple years of your 30s now constitute middle age. At least that's what the screenwriters would have you think for all the existential angst permeating the production. Jim and Michelle are now parents, which is Hollywood code for "a sexless marriage." Oz, the genial doofus jock from the first two films is now a big-time sportscaster dating a model. Kevin is a house-husband and Finch is a mysterious adventurer with a dark secret. Rounding out the group is the irrepressible Stifler, working as a temp in some generic large corporate organization. It speaks to the laziness of the script that it's never clear, even to the characters, what this company even does.

A bigger problem, however, is that this film is based around the gang's 13-year high school reunion. Thirteenth? It's blatantly obvious that the filmmakers have an incredibly low opinion of their audience. They figure no one cares about the details. They figure we'll tune in to see Stifler do something disgusting, see Jim involved some incredibly embarrassing sexual misunderstanding, and to hear Eugene Levy awkwardly spouting inappropriate advice to his son. Those elements are in place, certainly, but hold no interest without some kind of story to hold them together.

Worse, even these stand-by gags of the series are not funny. The whole production feels as if a couple of "American Pie" fans got together, wrote up some bad fan-fiction, and then somehow managed to talk the entire original cast into showing up for a kind of make-believe "American" movie.

Arriving back in town a few days early for the Reunion, the guys all get together and immediately begin predictably regressing. Naturally, Michelle has decided that this trip down memory lane, despite all the obvious logistical difficulties, is going to be her and Jim's chance to reconnect romantically. Hmmm. I wonder if Jim's desire to be rowdy with the boys and his responsibility to his wife are going to come into conflict?

The whole movie is like this. You might expect a sex farce to be raunchy or offensive, but no. This movie is just dull. Every joke, every predicament, every interminable heartfelt moment of introspection is telegraphed from a mile away. Nothing surprising, nothing even particularly amusing, happens throughout the entire production. Even Stifler, who is the funniest part of the film, feels like he's just phoning it in. A few of his cruder bon mots elicit almost involuntary chuckles, but there's no staying power. And then the entire movie basically sums it all up by saying you can be an adult and still hang with your friends. Good job.

There is very little about this movie that is worthwhile. The acting is horrible. This group of young stars, once considered the brat pack of their generation, proved they could all have the career staying power of Judd Nelson. Only Sean William Scott, as Stifler, has done much of anything, but even he is a one-note performer. Tara Reid and Chris Klein, who both sat out the third installment, return here with abysmal performances. Klein, especially, almost seems to be doing a parody character instead of really acting. Jason Biggs slaps us in the face with his complete mediocrity, making us wonder why we ever cared about him in the first place.

The rest of the cast fares similarly. The writing, somehow more so than the acting, is completely bottom of the barrel. It's like talking to someone who is certain you can't keep up with the story they're telling, so they keep explaining it in simpler and simpler terms.

But for all that, "American Reunion" is, at least, not offensive. Artistically, yes, I suppose it is, but there isn't a mean note in the entire film. That means something. It's a small thing, but it keeps it from being one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Worst of the year so far, yes, but somehow simple incompetence is better than active negativity. "American Reunion" receives about the faintest praise I can give -- I hated it, but it didn't make me sick to my stomach.

Grade: D-

"American Reunion" is rated R for pervasive language, crude humor, sexual situations, and nudity.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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