Note: This DVD contains both the rated and Unrated cuts of American Pie: Book of Love, but since the film never played in theaters, I'd be shocked if anyone actually bothered with the R-rated edit, which runs 2 minutes shorter than the Unrated version. I am one of those people who isn't going to bother with the R version: the following review corresponds to the Unrated cut alone.
As far as teen sex comedies go, American Pie Presents: The Book of Love is pretty mediocre stuff, providing a small smattering of chuckles primarily predicated on nostalgia, both for similar genre pictures of the past and for the other movies in the series. Still, having just recently rewatched the three originals and suffered through the subsequent trio of direct-to-video sequels prior to popping in this seventh installment, "a small smattering of chuckles" is a pretty impressive achievement that manages to rank higher than it should on the series' uneven totem pole. Personally, I was never a huge fan of American Wedding (thanks to Seann William Scott's painful overacting), so, all told, the peaks and valleys of Book of Love end up about even with that installment.
Book of Love offers the viewer the escapades of Rob (former child star Bug Hall), Lube (Brandon Hardesty) and Nathan (Kevin M. Horton), who are trying in vain to gain some traction with their respective dream girls: Nathan is fighting with his girlfriend Dana (Melanie Papalia) over her decision to adopt a no-sex-until-marriage stance, Lube's fantasies are consumed by visions of head cheerleader Ashley (Jennifer Holland), and Rob hopes to build up the courage to tell his friend Heidi (Beth Behrs) the way he really feels about her. Rob's decision to make his move ultimately occurs at an East Great Falls dance, but before he can get the word out, he accidentally sets part of the library on fire, causing the sprinklers to douse the room in water. The cleanup process leads to the discovery of The Bible, the handed-down sex manual from the original film, now partially water damaged beyond recognition.
Keeping in mind that my personal frame of reference for grading The Book of Love is the other three American Pie Presents efforts (rather than some bar of, you know, legitimate quality), the connection between this film and the theatrical American Pies is stronger. First of all, it actually takes place at East Great Falls High. Taken by itself, this choice may sound unremarkable, but this is the first American Pie since the original to actually take place in a high school rather than a college campus or some other, more obscure location. Eugene Levy also seems at least partially interested in what he's doing, even cracking a few amusing jokes, which a complete 180 from his contributions to Beta House, in which the viewer can practically read the check in his pocket. The Bible provides a reasonably good jumping-off point for one of these spin-offs (although the movie never has any really interesting plans revolving around it), and it's a nice spin that Rob's parental figure is his flustered but understanding mother (Rosanna Arquette), since there's no topping Jim's Dad. Thankfully, this chapter contains only around half as much gross-out humor as the other DTV flicks, although there is still more nudity in this one film than the original trilogy combined.
On the other hand, I could have lived without yet another made-up member of the Stifler clan showing up in one of these movies. Band Camp used Steve's younger brother Matt (Tad Hilgenbrinck), a character who actually appeared in American Pie and American Pie 2, but The Naked Mile and Beta House followed invented cousins Erik (John White) and Dwight (Steve Talley), and The Book of Love introduces us to Scott (John Patrick Jordan). Scott easily ranks as the least interesting of all the Stiflers in these movies, trying to do less of an imitation than Hilgenbrinck but more of an impresion than White or Talley, and the result is just a bland, unfunny mush of bad acting. I'll give a bit of credit to writer David H. Steinberg (who developed the story for American Pie 2) for trying to do something clever and making Stifler the villain of the story, but he loses it all in the third act, when something terribly unfunny happens to the character, and he subsequently softens up in his final scene.
Director John Putch makes the mistake of homaging other, better movies, namely Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club (the former being doubly dopey, because The Naked Mile already tried -- and failed -- to do the same thing). However, I do appreciate the casting of Curtis Armstrong (who I hope makes a cameo in the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine -- someone, read this and make it happen) as one of the teachers, and a brief cameo by Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Robert Romanus as one of the co-writers of The Bible. In the third act, the characters decide to re-assemble the book by contacting its creators, and all of the book's writers are cameo appearances, including Dustin Diamond, C. Thomas Howell, Christopher Knight, Tim Matheson, Steve Railsback, and Bret Michaels, although aside from the first and last of these people, I'd be kinda surprised if the audience for Book of Love even knows who any of them are. Kevin Federline also gets an extremely brief cameo as a Canadian border guard.
As for the gags, the movie is lightly amusing in patches, although most of it is the execution (i.e. the cast) rather than the writing. For instance, I don't necessarily think the dog "sex" joke at the beginning of the movie is all that clever, but I did laugh at the desperately pained expression on Hall's face when he sees his brother running off with the video camera. Rob getting taped in embarrassing situations is a running joke, and while I felt that series of callbacks works alright, I was less amused by Lube's constant fantasies (which is funny the second time, but becomes increasingly tiresome), or the poorly-staged, overly-elaborate sequences involving a crowded church and an extremely old woman. When the focus is on the kids, and legitimate situations they might get themselves into (like Rob's lingerie store scene with Ashley), the comedy works better. The movie mostly falters when it comes to the romance, which all works out predictably and gives the short shrift to the ladies, whose characters are all underdeveloped. The most disappointing turn is Beth Behrs, who is adequate but offers up little personality. It's a shame as well that Beta House wasted the talents of Meghan Heffern, who had a great attitude despite equally thin writing; if only the two movies could switch lead actresses, Book of Love might have jumped a few more points.
There have been rumors that the success of American Pie Presents: The Book of Love might translate into an eighth film in the series that will actually go theatrical, and might even reunite some of the original cast members beyond Eugene Levy. If all that existed were the other three Presents, I don't know that I'd have been interested, but The Book of Love does manage to prove, in a few marginal ways, that there's still some semblance of life in the identifiable things that can be called American Pie. Book of Love is definitely not a masterpiece -- it's not even a particularly good movie -- but if you're curious to see how things are faring in East Great Falls, you could still do a lot worse than this one.
Book of Love follows the trademark American Pie cover artwork rules: a standard group shot over the colors of the American flag, featuring at least one goofy face. Flipping the DVD over reveals the statement "The most outrageous slice of pie yet!" on the back cover. Of course, American Pie: Band Camp was the "wildest, most hilarious slice of pie ever", The Naked Mile was an "all-new, hilarious slice of American Pie" and Beta House was the "hottest, wildest and freshest piece of Pie ever!" and "maybe the most outrageous slice of pie yet!" I know there aren't that many pie references one can make other than slices and pieces, but there's no mandate requiring one to be included. The artwork is sheathed in an eco-LITE case (which I like better than eco-BOXes, but most of them are warped due to the thin plastic) which is slid into a slipcover reproducing identical artwork, and the disc is red with the silver disc surface forming the lettering.
The Video and Audio
Universal offers a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks colorful and clean. Near the end of the movie, when the characters are in the ski lifts, the image began to look more digital than I had previously noticed, but even if it does, that'd still be more of a production concern than a DVD concern (and it probably has to do with greenscreen used to create the backgrounds in the obviously fake ski lifts more than anything).
Dolby Digital 5.1 makes an effort to sound full and well-mixed, and it sounds better than many of the comedies I've reviewed recently, but it's not as impressive as a major, big-budget comedy like The Hangover or something. The surrounds are somewhat active, but the whole enterprise sounds slightly cheap or artificial, as most DTV efforts do (at least in my experience). Spanish and French 5.1, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
16 deleted scenes (11:20) are all pretty weak, unfunny edits, although "two in the Hootie, one in the Blowfish" is a pretty remarkable euphemism, and the inclusion of a cousin to Shannon Elizabeth's Nadia is vaguely interesting. It is nice to know, however, that a couple of the more gross-out gags hit the cutting room floor for once. There is an equally lame gag reel (4:00) as well. 10 "From the Set" clips (total running time 19:22) are basically Apatow's Line-O-Rama bonus features, without the same improvising skill (although I would like to know where the "Naked Hula Hooping Sequence" was intended to fit in the film).
On the Set of American Pie Presents: The Book of Love" (8:06) is kicked off with an introduction by director John Putch about not wanting to do the "traditional behind-the-scenes crap", followed by a perfectly traditional EPK-style behind-the-scenes featurette, with one guy comparing Bug Hall and Kevin M. Horton as "like Tom Hanks in Splash" and "a modern-day Jerry Lewis". Yeah... Next, we get "Just the Tips: The Love Manual" (5:50) interviews the cast and crew on their personal sex and relationship advice, which is probably exactly as enthralling as would be expected. "American Pie Trivia" (8:44) shows Horton interviewing cast and crew about American Pie trivia. It's actually the best featurette on the disc, but the 80% of the questions are startlingly easy. Finally, the disc is concluded by "American Pie-Cons" (6:52), potentially included just to make sure the viewers are aware of who all of the cameos in the movie are. Also worth pointing out: I don't follow the tabloids, but in his one-minute appearance in the movie and ten minutes of footage on this disc, Kevin Federline actually comes off as a perfectly nice guy.
Trailers for Smoking Aces 2: Assassin's Ball [Unrated], Universal Blu-Ray, and Despicable Me play before the main menu.
Only five minutes of American Pie Presents: The Book of Love had passed before it was conclusively better than all three of Universal's prior direct-to-video efforts to extend the Pie franchise into the lucrative home video market. It's a great relief that this one shakes a few of the issues those movies had (different settings, gross-out gags, Eugene Levy's visible boredom) and manages to be halfway decent, but it's far from a return to glory, either. The bonus features are pretty boring, so anyone interesting should rent the movie instead of a planning a purchase.
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