After three surprisingly successful theatrical releases and a whole slew of straight-to-DVD offspring, the American Pie series is back in multiplexes with American Reunion. And while my knee-jerk reaction to this completely unneeded chapter is to dismiss it as unfunny and unoriginal, there’s still a part of me—and it pains me to the core of whatever pompous elitism I might carry around as a film critic—that can’t completely dismiss the movie as a total failure.
Keep in mind that there’s absolutely no critical metric by which I can say that American Reunion is good. Like its predecessors, it follows the strict formula of having its de facto hero Jim (Jason Biggs) subjected to all kinds of awkward sexual humiliations (I can’t begin to fathom the kind of Freudian scarring that must he must have after four movies of this stuff). His friends follow their same pattern of dealing with their various interpersonal problems, and Stifler (Seann William Scott) generally annoys everyone with his meat-headed immaturity. American Reunion is no different, as we get moments of such comedic genius as Jim closing his laptop on his manhood and Stifler defecating into a beer cooler. But by having the characters gather for their high-school reunion, the film is able to have an underlying maturity that you wouldn’t expect, while also having free reign to relate to a core audience who has also grown up since the original American Pie hit theaters.
A lot of this maturity is due to writer/director combo Jon Hurtz and Hayden Schlossberg, the men behind the Harold & Kumar series, which offer the more intelligent of the stoner comedies you’re likely to find. In their hands, we have characters who’ve grown in believable and—here’s the important part—relatable ways. Yeah, a lot of it is pat, and none of it is too groundbreaking—like Jim and his wife Michelle’s (Alyson Hannigan) marital strife related to their waning sex life, which dives straight into romcom territory. But Hurtz and Schlossberg manage to bring some realism to the ways in which these people have aged and lost their grasp on youth, and, by proxy, make the characters sympathetic. The filmmakers even take the arrested development of the completely obnoxious Stifler, turn it around and transform him into a tragic hero—in itself no small feat.
In the end, despite everything the film has working in its favor, it’s still an American Pie flick. Beyond one joke with John Cho (who’s still being credited as “MILF Guy #2”), it’s just not very funny. This is none too surprising given that, after all, this is a series launched on the idea of humping a baked good. The real question is—nine years after the last of these movies—who really cares? The film manages—with the tact of George Lucas making a Star Wars prequel—to shove in every character and in-reference imaginable. As popular as these films once were (even 2003’s American Wedding astonishingly topped the $100-million mark), is there really some soul out there who is wholly devoted to these characters, and who truly wants and needs to know what the gang is up to?
In the film’s defense, if this super fan exists, they’ll certainly be pleased with American Reunion. The great irony of the movie is that in a time where cinematic discourse often devolves into complaining about the latest remake or sequel, here we have a sequel that gets all of the core elements totally right. The unfortunate aspect is that the series they’ve done such a good job with is American Pie. Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking.