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‘American Reunion’ Review

American Reunion
Universal Pictures

American Reunion’ has the same thing going for it that ‘American Pie’ did: it understands the hilariously perverted inner-workings of the male mind. I graduated high school one year ahead of the characters in the original ‘American Pie,’ and I can say with some authority that it was an accurate reflection of what it felt like to be a horny, dopey, desperate teenager in the late 1990s: feeling like you’d never have a girlfriend, never get laid, never do anything but masturbate to scrambled cable porn (not that I, uh, did any of those things in high school, cause I was, like, really cool and stuff).

Now ‘American Reunion’ brings back almost all of the characters from the original film for an accurate reflection of what it feels like to be a horny, dopey, slightly less desperate man entering his 30s: feeling basically like you did when you were 18 until you come into contact with actual teenagers and you’re hit by an overwhelming feeling of holy crap, I’m getting old.

There are consistent laughs throughout ‘American Reunion,’ but what I liked most about it was that surprisingly thoughtful and almost melancholy undertone about mortality and regret bubbling beneath the gags about guys trying to hide their genitals behind translucent saucepan lids.

Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), best of high school friends, return to their hometown of East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion. They try to do all the things they used to do, but wherever they go they’re met with the nagging feeling that things aren’t the way they used to be. Jim’s marriage to his high school prom date Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) has been on the rocks, sexually speaking, since their son was born. Oz doesn’t like his job as a sportscaster and misses his high school sweetheart Heather (Mena Suvari). Kevin feels bored in his marriage and misses his buddies. “Maybe in high school it was funny,” Jim says after the boys and their obnoxious wingman Stifler (Seann William Scott) get some payback against a trio of teenagers who pranked Oz’s girlfriend. “Now it’s just a felony.”

In fact, what was good for a laugh in high school still proves to be good for a laugh now. Admittedly, by this point in the franchise ‘American Pie’’s jokes are as codified as the rules of a James Bond film: Jim will be sexually humiliated, his dad (Eugene Levy) will dispense nonchalantly disgusting advice, people will be awkwardly interrupted while they have sex. But while the material might be as stale as an ‘American Pie’ joke about pie, the cast plays it with excitement and energy. Scott is particularly good; a 30-year-old Stifler, still defiant in the face of good manners and common social courtesy, is not an easy character to make funny (and not, say, pathetic and sad) but he manages to pull it off.

I may not be the most objective audience for assessing the quality of this film. The first ‘American Pie’ meant a lot to me as a kid. It spoke to me in a deep and personal way, and its VHS tape became a frequent guest in my VCR. Perhaps I’m too nostalgic about my own misbegotten youth to fully consider this film. Or maybe I would be even harder on this movie than an ‘American Pie’ agnostic, since I’ve been emotionally invested in the lives of these characters for years, and I’d feel a little betrayed if they were trotted out for a crummy cash-in sequel.

Writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, best known as the creators of Harold and Kumar, had a tough task in this movie: reviving a franchise that’s been dead for a decade while finding room for story arcs for all the various characters. For the most part, they did an impressive job. They even make room for – and good use of – Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s Mom, Natasha Lyonne as Jessica, and John Cho as the immortal MILF Guy #2.

They haven’t made the most accessible sequel – if you don’t know and love ‘American Pie’ you definitely don’t need to waste your time on this film – but they have made a surprisingly relevant one. “Am I nuts or was this place a lot more fun when we were younger?,” one of the ‘Pie’ guy says as they visit another of their high school haunts. It was, but it’s kind of interesting to look at it again now and see how far we’ve all come, and then make a joke punning on the word ‘come.’

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Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’

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