“American Reunion” begins with the franchise’s typical sexual misunderstanding played for casual sitcom laughs. Married couple Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are preparing for bedtime when she excuses herself to take a late night bath. Without saying a word, Jim watches her leave before visiting bookmarked porn sites on his laptop computer, pleasing himself with a sock filled with what can only be considered an excessive amount of lubrication. Through a few prepackaged pratfalls too implausible to properly explain, Jim and Michelle’s pre-pubescent son learns that Mommy and Daddy had been pleasuring themselves in separate rooms, and lack the self-awareness to properly shield themselves when caught. The camera stays fixed on the silent milieu of an embarrassed Michelle shrinking underneath the bubbles in her bathtub, and Jim clenching the bleeding tip of his crotch, the two of them separated by a shower handle excitedly dancing across the tiles. It is quite possibly the saddest opening scene in recent studio comedy history.
Fortunately, “American Reunion” perks up beyond that, if only because everyone looks glad to be back. It’s a return to their hometown for the high school reunion, which means “megastar” Chris Klein has no excuse to back out despite not making time for “American Wedding.” And he’s not alone: fans of the franchise will be glad to know that if you were a fly on the wall during “American Pie 2,” you have your time to shine here. Nearly three quarters of the film’s inexplicable 113-minute runtime are spent re-introducing characters from the previous films, usually involving elaborate callbacks to running gags that, in many ways, wore out their welcome the first time.
Like always, the focus is on Jim, who reconnects with his father, again played by comedy vet Eugene Levy. Levy, who seems like he’s paid in one-liners, again squirms through his role, this time as a lonely widower tasked with helping Jim re-ignite the heat in his failing sexual relationship with Michelle. This task is made even more difficult considering the neighborhood child he used to babysit, Kara, is now a nubile eighteen year old (the bubbly Ali Cobrin). While it’s a notably inorganic development to have Kara fall in completely deranged stalker-love with Jim, Cobrin at least gives the filmmakers a chance to indulge in the sleazy cheesecake aspects of the original film, which seemed to long ago be buried under a sea of conservative nostalgia and unearned good vibes.
Klein’s return comes with a level of meta self-awareness, as his Oz became the alpha male of the group, (painfully and unconvincingly) hosting a sports show and becoming a reality television star. Klein is trying to be a good sport in allowing Oz to be mocked as a featured member of a “Dancing With The Stars”-type show, but it only reminds viewers how desperately uninteresting Klein is as both an actor and “personality.” Meanwhile, Eddie Kaye Thomas’ low-key Finch again gets relegated to background duties, and Thomas Ian Nicholas’ Kevin carries on a tired, years-later flame for Vicky (Tara Reid, who acts much like internet videos buffer).
With five lead stories to follow, it’s troubling how three can be such duds, but at least there’s Stifler. Seann William Scott wears this character like a finely tailored suit, and ‘Reunion’ finally douses him with a serving of humility as he has become the least-successful of the five of them. Somewhat over-the-hill, Stifler is revitalized by being surrounded by the bevy of local high school girls. He’s now Wooderson, with significantly less self-respect.
The series has been handed off to directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the architects of the ‘Harold And Kumar‘ franchise. Admirably, they try to balance out the schmaltz with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor, going for the absurd or abstract in gags about bullying or homosexuality. The warmth of the original films remains, however surface level, but the duo never forget to keep things moving quickly. It results in a film that’s a bit more of a shaggy dog than the earlier efforts, its plot strands slack and unsatisfying, it’s deadweight notably visible. To their credit, Hurwitz and Schlossberg never let the film drag, and they’re notably more skilled filmmakers and humorists than J.B. Rogers and Jesse Dylan, the men behind parts two and three.
Of course, the “American Pie” films have always been a boy’s club, and that remains the case here. The women in the film’s universe are either braindead nymphos, irrational harridans, or both in random order. A mild attempt at rectifying this (and the cast’s overwhelming whiteness) is made by the inclusion of Dania Ramirez, who plays former band student Selena. In her brief time onscreen, she gets to be smart, independent, and strong without being turned into a sex kitten or prude. More importantly, she’s actually somewhat funny trading barbs with Finch in what amounts to the D or E plotline. It’s a dopey, obvious attempt at diversity, but in this case, it’s the effort that counts. [C]