"C'mon guys, that was funny." -Stiffler
"Maybe in high school it was funny." -Jim
And there you have the trouble with American Reunion in a two-line nutshell, with this film that has gone to a tremendous amount of trouble to gather all of the players (no matter how minor) from the hit 1999 comedy, and has gone to no trouble at all to give them anything funny or interesting to do or say. Because such things seem important in matters of both nostalgia and comedic taste, I will stress my affection for the "original trilogy" of American Pie movies (the makers of Reunion are among those who would like to pretend that those endless direct-to-DVD sequels never existed), the first of which appeared when I was 23 years old--a touch older than its characters, sure, but right in the middle of its target audience. American Pie, American Pie 2, and American Wedding all delivered the expected jizz jokes and naked flesh, but they also had affection for the characters, a dash of heart, and the somewhat-revolutionary idea to float the notion that girls like sex too. They weren't great movies--the storytelling was clunky and the serious romances were a drag--but they were fun. There's precious little of that in display in American Reunion, which is about as strained and depressing a "comedy" as you're likely to sit through. It's not funny, it's not human, and for a major studio tentpole release, it's astonishingly lazy.
Oh, you'd like proof? The plot is, hand on the Bible, centered on East Great Falls High's 13-year class reunion. "I know, they missed the ten-year by a couple," notes ever-observant Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) early on, and the question must be asked: why not just have it take place at the ten-year reunion, and set it a couple of years ago, since there's never been a 13-year high school reunion in the history of high schools? Maybe just keep a close eye on the cars and cell phones? Would that have been too much trouble? At any rate, the old gang flocks back for the festivities: Kevin, who's now a househusband; Oz (Chris Klein), a TV sportscaster with a hard-partying girlfriend (Katrina Bowden); Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), continuing to cultivate his image as a cultured world traveler; and, of course Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), whose frisky sex life all but died after the birth of their son.
Men who are pushing thirty have very different problems than men trying to bust their cherries at senior prom, and an American Pie reunion film could easily have found some comedy--and pathos--in exploring those conflicts. Instead, presumably to lure the teenage audience that has embraced the films on DVD (rather than those who have aged with the characters), Universal hired writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, of the vulgar and puerile Harold and Kumar franchise, so you can pretty much kiss any ambition goodbye. As with those films, Hurwitz and Schlossberg's strategy is to find the easiest (and usually grossest) punchline, and then drive directly into it. It's all easily predictable, and more than a little desperate.
A couple of the performances are enjoyable--Biggs is (as ever) likably game, Thomas's wry line readings still land gracefully, and it's fun to watch Christopher Guest stock company members Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge paired up for the first time in this series. But even Levy's schtick has gotten tiresome, and the picture's attempt to recreate the format of the earlier films has, unfortunately, extended to the inclusion of woefully dull straight subplots for both Klein (with Mena Suvari) and Thomas (with Tara Reid, who summons up all the acting power she can for lines like "I'm glad you think so highly of me!"). And for all of this talk of getting everyone back, it should be noted that Natasha Lyonne, one of the funnier performers of the series, gets about four seconds of screen time, past the 90-minute mark, while Shannon Elizabeth gets even less (and later). Hurwitz and Schlossberg's Harold and Kumar star John Cho ("MILF Guy #2" from the original), meanwhile, gets like five scenes. So much for nostalgia.
American Reunion comes to Blu-ray in a two-disc set, with both Blu-ray and standard-def DVD versions of the film. Digital copies are available in both Ultraviolet and downloadable, iTunes-compatible form.
The film can be viewed in its original theatrical version, running 1:52:52, and the pro forma "unrated" cut, running just a second shy of one minute longer. I do not know what the differences are between the two (I watched the unrated), and you can't pay me enough to watch the film again to find out.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
The Pie films were never renowned for their dazzling imagery; they were always a little chintzy-looking, and even with a (presumably) larger budget, American Reunion's MPEG-4 AVC transfer betrays a faded and somewhat aged look--the film somehow appears to have been shot before the others. It's not a bad image, per se--good grain, nicely cinematic, all that--just a peculiar one. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers a reasonably immersive and dynamic experience, particularly in the reunion dance scene at the end (where the echoing circa-1999 music includes, wtf, the 1990 song "Poison"). Spanish and French DTS tracks are also included, as is a DVS track and English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Two commentary options are available: the standard audio-only Audio Commentary with writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, and the so-called "Out of Control Track," a video commentary in which the actors pop up at the bottom of the screen to throw in their two cents. It's a cute idea, but their appearances are so sporadic that you just end up watching the movie again, which is unfortunate.
The picture's bloated, nearly two-hour running time would lead you to believe that everything they shot made it in, but nope--there are seven Deleted Scenes (7:51) and thirteen Extended Scenes (26:25). Most are a waste, though there is one genuinely welcome scene between Lyonne's Jess and Thomas's Finch that should've made the cut. The Alternate Takes (3:53) and Gag Reel (3:42) are amusing enough, but the rest of the bonus features are mostly laugh-free EPK-style materials.
"The 'Reunion' Reunion: Re-Launching the Series" (10:32) details how the project came together, "The Best of Biggs: Hangin' with Jason B" (3:37) profiles the star/executive producer, "Lake Bake" (4:31) focuses on the shooting of the lake sequence, "Dancing with the Oz" (2:50) looks at Klein's big show-within-the-movie sequence, "American Gonad-iators: The Fight Scene" (4:13) spotlights (you guessed it) the fight scene, "Jim's Dad" (2:47) is a tribute to the venerable Levy--who even appeared in those terrible straight-to-video sequels--and "Ouch! My Balls!" (1:47) is, I'm not kidding, a look at the cast's preoccupation with punching each other in the balls. (Imagine being the poor schmuck at Universal who got that plum assignment: "Hey Darren! Make a nut-punching featurette!")
Finally, the "American Reunion Yearbook" is an interactive feature that lets viewers choose the character and peruse photos, clips from the series, and interviews with the actors playing them.
It's possible to outgrow things like American Pie movies, and certainly the crude gags, shoddy filmmaking, and casual misogyny of the original trilogy would bother 36-year-old me more than they troubled 23-year-old me. There's two ways to approach a belated sequel: a) by acknowledging that the characters have grown up, assuming that the audience has too, and acting accordingly, or b) by slapping together a shoddy, half-hearted reconstruction of what worked before, and assuming it will work again. There's not a single honest laugh in American Reunion's interminable 113 minutes. Trust me. I counted.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.