As the title suggests, Universal Pictures’ American Reunion is all about familiarity and that warm sensation of seeing old friends or exchanging old jokes. I'm just not sure that I'm in on it.
Set 13 years after American Pie, the film finds Jim (Jason Biggs), Finch (Eddie Kay Thomas), Oz (Chris Klein), and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) in various states of early middle-age angst. For Jim, it's -- what else? -- the situation in the bedroom with wife Michele (Alyson Hannigan). Kevin seems happily married, but one look at Vicky (Tara Reid) and he starts to question whether that's actually true. Finch is still trying to be cool. Oz is a sportscaster and reality TV veteran, but he’s eager to get away from that life for a weekend.
Meanwhile, as the boys have grown into men, or at least a 21st-century approximation, Stifler (Seann William Scott) has remained steadfastly Stifler. He's still at home. He has a token job. Oh, and he's ready to "tear it up" during the reunion.
The pieces are all there, and fans of the comedy franchise will certainly welcome that, but I have to admit that I'm really not a member of the club. Full disclosure: I was a prude when American Pie was released in 1999, and although I've lightened up since, there's something about the comedic situations in this film that fail to make me chuckle. When confronted by a group of young boys who steal the women’s bikini tops, Stifler retaliates in a scatological way. It's meant to be the centerpiece of the sequence, but the funnier part -- at least to me -- comes when the gang has to flee, causing some real damage. The issue isn't so much the potty humor as the way it receives the focus when other gags might better serve the characters.
As it happens, these characters -- and the actors portraying them -- can support more than easy poop gags. While some of Stifler's antics annoyed me as the movie unspooled, I found his steadfast refusal to grow up one of the better long-game jokes the movie had to offer. His reaction to the subdued nature of his big party the night before the reunion also elicited a chuckle. It’s those sorts of moments, and not the easy jokes that miss their marks or the odd reliance on gay panic, that make the character endearing.
Stifler's party also marks the first time Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge share a scene in the series as Jim's Dad and Stifler's Mom. While I felt their eventual encounter was telegraphed earlier in the film, the moment itself has the sort of spark you expect from these veterans of the Christopher Guest club. It's one of the few new elements in the series as Jim's Dad gets out of the house and his awkwardness in life becomes someone else's problem.
Also new is Dania Ramirez as Selena, a previously unseen friend from Michele's band camp days. She's presented as a love interest for Finch, but her funniest moments come during a sparring match with Stifler and some girl talk with Michele.
While all the storylines stay fairly light and poke fun at the foibles of being 30, Oz's thread is the most interesting, as it acknowledges the contemporary element of reality TV and, oddly enough, features a dollop of genuine emotion courtesy of Klein and Mena Suvari. I know, it surprised me, too. More so than the other characters, Oz is chafing at the life he's carved for himself, and a lot of the comedy in his scenes stems from that. Whether humiliated by his TV past or dealing with Suvari's douchey doctor boyfriend, there’s something in this plot line that makes me wish the film had more time to spend on it.
In fact, with the four main leads, Stifler and the parents to juggle, none of the material ever really gets a chance to breathe. That can work in a comedy, but American Reunion rarely contains enough frantic energy to compensate.
This is particularly true at the reunion itself. Occupying the last 20 minutes or so of the film, it mainly exists to squeeze in cameos and wrap up storylines. The result is low on energy, which is strange for what should be the central setting of the film. That said, it does offer Stifler an opportunity to "grow" and allow some long-absent characters to reunite.
Like an old friend, American Reunion will be welcomed by those already enjoying the series and curious to see where the characters are now. They will laugh at Jim’s embarrassment and howl at Stifler's obliviousness. They will also be pleased with Oz's latest self-realization. And, I think, we can all cheer as Natasha Lyonne makes her way back into movies. However, I still find this series -- and this fourth entry -- hard to access. The jokes that echo back to the first film leave me cold, and the new ones fail to resonate.
But then again, I could still be a prude.
American Reunion opens today nationwide.