It's a curious thing how low the bar has been set for the rowdy college sex comedy. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to most readers that American Virgin is not a particularly funny movie. Then again, for a direct-to-DVD "comedy" with a generic title like American Virgin, it's surprisingly "better" (read: mediocre-er) than one would expect, and for a direct-to-DVD sex comedy co-starring Rob Schneider, it's probably some sort of masterpiece (still mediocre). I can't say I was enthralled by any of the events the movie dreamt up, but at least they washed over me in a semi-pleasant way, and I occasionally thought I might like to see some of these people in better movies.
Priscilla (Jenna Dewan) is raised to believe in chastity by her parents at a young age, and she takes the message to heart so strongly it earns her a free ride to college, thanks to a scholarship from the "Can't Hurry Love" foundation. When Priscilla arrives at her new school, however, she discovers to her horror that her roommate is no-holds-barred repeat-flunkie Natalie (Brianne Davis), a.k.a. "The Naz", who nearly overwhelms Priscilla with her pot-smoking, group sex sessions and gigantic vibrator. One night, when Priscilla ventures out to try and hush a particularly loud frat party, Natalie coerces Priscilla into staying, and Priscilla ends up getting drunk while the sleazy "Chicks Go Crazy" cameras are rolling. Horrified at the thought of losing her scholarship and letting down her parents, she enlists the help of Natalie and Natalie's friends Chuck (Chase Ryan Jeffery) and Kevin (Elan Moss-Bacharach), and the foursome head to Mardi Gras, where "CGC" proprietor Ed Curtzman (Schneider) and his wimpy cameraman (Bo Burnham) are shooting more footage, in the hopes of getting it back.
Right from the bat, the predictability of American Virgin begins to wear thin. Priscilla has a boyfriend named Brad (Ben Marten), who she met in the program, and their college education will place them five hours apart. Gee, I wonder if she'll end up catching Brad giving into his primal urges? When Priscilla arrives at the school, she rebuffs Chuck's numerous advances. Gee, I wonder if they'll end up together? Priscilla and Natalie's disparate lifestyles threaten to clash. Gee, I wonder if they'll both learn a little something from each other? Yawn. The answers to all of these questions are as predictable as they sound, and the movie doesn't put forth any particular effort to cover up their highly telegraphed outcomes.
The screenplay was written by Jason Price, Lucas Jarach and Jeff Seeman, while How to Deal and The Wedding Date helmer Clare Kilner sits in the director's chair. My guess is that the trio of writers are responsible for the film's loose plotting, which doesn't emphasize certain elements particularly well, like "Can't Hurry Love" star player Mary Margaret (Bridgette Pechman), who Priscilla idolizes (I thought Priscilla's constant references to "Mary" were church-related), or the film's mild inability to execute a running joke. Kilner, on the other hand, doesn't display any noticeable visual style or panache, at least not any she's willing to use up on American Virgin. The farthest out the visuals get is a scene where Schneider's face gets warped with a computer while Priscilla is on pot brownies.
However, Kilner probably helped nurture the one thing that keeps American Virgin from being a total bore, which is the enthusiasm of the cast, especially Dewan and Davis in the film's lead roles. Despite the movie's culture-shock storyline, Priscilla and Natalie never really fight, and both actresses do their damnedest to prevent their cut-out characters from tumbling down a chasm of caricature to a painful demise. I'm not sure I want to call it "good", becuase the level of performance the duo manages to wrest from the material is more adequate than entertaining (i.e., they're saving something lame rather than really succeeding at something impressive). Nonetheless, the pair's chemistry, combined with the tone Kilner is presumably creating helps to stave off the seediness of the concept, giving the enterprise a fairly wholesome pitch despite all the gross-out gags. Speaking of seediness, as with most modern sexploitation comedies, the flesh-baring stopes far before it reaches the two main starlets, so anyone hoping to see Dewan or Davis take it all off will be sorely disappointed. The only nudity on display here comes from anonymous women with terribly obvious enhancements (and two old women, ho ho), which isn't particularly appealing.
American Virgin, as per its title, would like to be American Pie meets The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but it doesn't have nearly the cleverness or tenderness to meet either goal. That said, I imagine if you scooped up a stack of 20 direct-to-video frat comedies on the new release wall at a local video store, the movie would be the cream of the crap thanks to its cast. I even thought Rob Schneider was pretty good playing the slightly-rude, fast-talking "Chicks Go Crazy" host, until he's called upon to be cruel in the third act. Then again, I'm attempting to praise a movie by saying it 'isn't as awful as its competition, with a director on autopilot and a mostly-good performance by Rob Schneider.' Could I make American Virgin sound any better?
I feel both ways about the American Virgin DVD cover. It's a perfect example of the bare minimum of effort, consisting of literally nothing more than a bunch of publicity photos arranged on a white background with the title, credits and tagline filling up as much of the space as possible. The back cover is the same story: four caps from the movie, billing block and box copy. Then again, the colors are vivid and eye-catching, so I guess it looks alright overall (at least there's no Photoshop). There is no insert in the Red Tab style case, and the disc features the same art as the front.
The Video and Audio
Echo Bridge's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for American Virgin looks pretty great at a bit of a distance, with eye-popping, vivid colors (including deep, inky black) and good detail in close-up shots, but upon closer inespection, the image seems to be just a touch pixelized, with a few jagged edges here and there. Yeah, I know, American Virgin is not a delicate piece of cinematic artwork, and the nobody's going to be whipping out this disc as demo material for your HDTV, but the issue, however minor, is still noticeable.
Maybe I'll sound crazy, but the way I'd describe the difference between audio of most low-budget films, including the Dolby Digital 5.1 track included here, and the audio of the bigger budget productions is that the low-budget films feel like some sort of aural "mass" or "weight" is missing. For what it is, American Virgin sounds perfectly fine, with the dialogue coming through clearly in the front and a couple of stray ambient noises here and there, but something about that low-budget sound is like somehow "hearing" the sparse, empty, budget soundstages through my speakers. No subtitles are included on this DVD.
Skip it. It may not be the worst DTV movie of the year, but that sure doesn't mean anyone should expend precious time and energy watching it, especially on a disc with no special features whatsoever.
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