Do you remember when New Line gave Peter Jackson a gozillion dollars so that he could shoot all three Lord of the Rings movies at once and everyone thought that they were crazy? Well, we've seen how nicely that all worked out, haven't we? This approach clearly gave the films a sense of momentum and a continuity with the characters and actors. Maybe all film series should be shot this way. Then we wouldn't get the sudden drop in quality with sequels like American Wedding. (Author's Note: Yes, I know that most sequels aren't planned ahead of time. I was simply thinking out loud.)
American Wedding takes place three years after the events of American Pie 2. As the film opens, Jim (Jason Biggs) proposes to girlfriend Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), with a little help from his Dad (Eugene Levy). Following this momentous occasion, Jim and Michelle begin planning for/preparing for the wedding. Jim gets help from his friends Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and one of their goals is to hide the wedding from the obnoxious Stifler (Seann William Scott), but he manages to learn about the event and insists on being involved. Along with that bad news, Jim feels very pressured to impress Michelle's parents (Fred Willard and Deborah Rush). The pressure which already existed between Stifler and Finch (due to the fact that Finch had sex with Stifler's Mom (Jennifer Coolidge)) increases when Michelle's sister, Cadence (January Jones), arrives and then begin fighting for her affection. As the wedding approaches, Jim becomes very anxious as he is determined to give Michelle her dream wedding. Will Stifler's involvement ruin everything?
The first two American Pie films achieved the seemingly impossible by combining raw, gross-out humor with a generous amount of genuine heart. The first film dealt with the awkward nature of seeking one's first sexual experience in high school, while the sequel examined the shock of learning that life changes when one enters college. As these two films focused on milestones that many of us have experienced, they were appeal to transcend the Porky's-like genre, and become something that many viewers could relate to.
However, American Wedding takes off in a completely different direction and plays more like an extended episode of Three's Company. The movie barely has a cohesive storyline, as it is simply a series of madcap scenes in which something bizarre happens to jeopardize the wedding. Be it Stifler making Jim look life a fool in front of Michelle's parents, or Finch and Stifler fighting over Cadence, the story never progresses -- it is simply a linear sequence of over-the-top incidents. Sure, there are people who have had wedding mishaps, but I can't imagine that there are many viewers who will relate to what's going on in American Wedding. Also, there is an odd lack-of-balance with the characters. Clearly the filmmakers know that Stifler is popular with the audience, as he's in the film for disproportionate amount of time. Yes, Stifler is funny, but he steals every scene (whether this is intentional or not). In contrast, Kevin is in most every scene, but he says little and does even less. It's really weird to see a familiar character just standing around looking as if he's waiting for a bus (or for the script for Rookie of the Year 2). Director Jess Dylan has shot the film in a very dark style, resembling the work of John Carpenter or David Fincher, which definitely affects the mood of the movie.
So, I hated American Wedding, right? Not exactly. Like old friends, it was fun to see these old characters again. The movie definitely contains some funny moments and I found myself laughing out loud at several scenes. Stifler's domination of the film isn't necessarily a bad thing, as his character is hilarious and Scott really goes for broke in his performance. Veterans Levy and Willard add a higher level of comedy to the film and both have some funny moments. But, American Wedding must be considered a disappointment, as it is much more of a disposable movie than the first two films.
American Wedding walks down the aisle to DVD courtesy of Universal Home Video and is available in at least five different versions -- rated, fullscreen or widescreen, and unrated, fullscreen or widescreen, plus a "Gift Set". (And, as if that weren't confusing enough, the unrated DVD also contains the rated version.) For the purposes of this review, the unrated widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is a visible sheen in grain in most every shot. The colors are fine, most notable the reds and blues. Still, the overall dark look of the film does mute some of the colors. Edge enhancement is visible in many scenes, with haloes appearing around any moving object. As with the American Pie 2 DVD, the quality of the video presentation may suffer from the amount of extras crammed onto a single DVD.
The primary audio track on the American Wedding DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 (192 kbps) mix. This track provides clear dialogue with no indications of hissing or distortion. The film's rock soundtrack sounds fine, and the music reproduction generally excites the surround sound speakers. Otherwise, the surround sound action is limited to crowd scenes and incidental sound effects, and there is very little subwoofer action. This audio track isn't overwhelming, but it's certainly serviceable for a comedy.
As mentioned above, this "Extended Unrated Party Edition" DVD is packed with extras, but most of them are lackluster. For starters, the unrated edition is some 7 minutes longer than the rated version. About 4 1/2 minutes of that footage comes during the bachelor party scene, which features two topless women (Amanda Swisten and Nikki Schieler Ziering). The additional shots consist mainly of shots of these women's breast, along with some additional gags which feature the topless women. Along with this, there are some extra jokes scattered throughout the film. The extra footage isn't very impressive and I liked the streamlined quality of the rated version much better. The unrated version carries an optional one minute intro by writer Adam Herz.
The official extras are kicked off with a pair of audio commentaries. The first features director Jesse Dylan and star Seann William Scott. This is an odd commentary, as they say very little about the movie's production and talk more about what Scott wanted from the film. They are clearly doing this in jest, but it isn't very funny. Scott does admit that they know the film "isn't The Godfather", but they could have taken this assignment and bit more seriously and told us more about the making of the film. The second chat, which features actors Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Thomas Ian Nicholas, is even worse, as they admit that they don't have much to say. They do, however, comment on where the film was shot and what the working conditions were like, but there are long silent periods.
The DVD contains a reel of 11 deleted scenes which totals around 22 minutes, which includes introductions by Adam Herz. The scenes are presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but are not anamorphic (but they still look good). There are some mildly funny moments in these scenes, but, for the most part, it's clear why they were cut. There is a 6-minute outtake reel, which offers some nice ad-libs by the cast. "Stifler Speak" is an odd 7-minute featurette which examines the Stifler character and how Seann William Scott molds the dialogue. It offers a look at multiple takes from a scene and we see how Scott weaves a web of profanity. "Enter the Dominatrix: Inside the Bachelor Party" (10 minutes) is an overview of the bachelor party scene and contains comments from the cast, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes footage...and of course, topless women. "Grooming the Groom" (7 minutes) looks at the incredible amount of work which was involved in Jim's "special hair cut" scene. The oddest extra is the "Cheesy Wedding Video" which contains 3 minutes of footage from the film edited to look like a wedding video that a friend would make you watch. Finally, we have "Nikki's Hollywood Journal" (10 minutes), a pointless extra which allows Ziering to talk about herself. Who cares?
American Wedding is presumably the final film in this series, but as the box-office dictates this sort of thing, who knows. Compared to the first two films, this movie is certainly a disappointment, but it does offer some laughs. But one thing still bothers me: It's not entirely surprising that Chris Klein, Tara Reid, Natsha Lyonne, and Mena Suvari didn't appear in the film, but I still can't believe that there characters weren't even mentioned. At least give us, "It's too bad Oz couldn't make it"...