I knew it was unlikely that I’d love American Reunion, the fourth instalment in the American Pie franchise, but I wanted at least to like it. Sadly, the laughs have been diminishing ever since awkward, nerdy Jim (Jason Biggs) first prematurely fumbled around with Czech exchange student Nadia and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) found himself locked in a room with Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge) 13 years ago. American Reunion is, sadly, a continuation on the downward slope towards mediocrity, trying to milk the same jokes out of a few interesting characters and a few not-so-interesting ones.
When American Pie first appeared in 1999, it was widely credited with breathing fresh new life into the stagnating teen comedy genre. Many of its laughs and most of its memorable lines and moments were provided by Jim, his dad (the ever-hilarious Eugene Levy), band-geek-turned-dominatrix Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and the terminally-obnoxious Stifler (Seann William Scott), who seemed to be on a one man mission to fill the move with as many insults as he could muster in 90 minutes. Finch was amusing, but the other four leads – Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Heather (Mena Suvari) and Vicky (Tara Reid) – were as wet and dull and forgettable as you could possibly imagine, churned out by a shadowy Hollywood white teeth factory in order to glow asininely in the first teen comedy that came their way. They were just lucky it happened to be a funny one.
Still, every clown needs a straight man, and the balance between gross-out laughs and simpering teenage dilemma was about right. Box office success duly achieved, American Pie 2 followed soon thereafter, a film I enjoyed just as much as the original. I even found myself thinking about how much I liked the characters by the end of their privileged beach holiday, and was glad it all worked out well for them (again), especially with a pleasing backdrop of tanned arses and whispy, anodyne corporate indie-folk drifting through the sea air.
The charm of the series after the first two films was undoubtedly due to its portrayal of teenage fumbling, outlandish humiliation and the hilarious depiction of failed attempts with the opposite sex. In my mid 20s as the millennium dawned I could knowingly nod along to certain aspects of the film, fondly remembering the fumbles and the stumbles and the time that I, like Jim, glued a porno tape to one hand and my winking gentleman to the other. Against my better judgement I was probably identifying with the characters back then. Which is pretty worrying.
As the characters got older, we then saw Jim and Michelle tie the knot in 2003’s American Wedding, set four years after the first film. By this time alarm bells started ringing – or at least they should have done. I don’t know what you ought to expect from the third film in a comedy trilogy other than the same old jokes, but still…American Wedding was full of the same old jokes. While the series still did farce and gross-out better than any other mainstream American comedy of the era, it was all getting a little tired. Stifler’s ritual humiliation? Check. Jim partaking in an embarrassing conversation with his dad? Check. Finch bedding Stifler’s Mom? Check. The only thing missing was Oz, the character so forgettable that it’s possible writer Adam Herz forgot to include him in the script. (Well, I’m joking of course, and being a little unfair. They left Vicky and Heather out of the film, as well as Oz and a few other minor roles; according to Wikipedia it was “near impossible to create interesting storylines for all of the main characters”. Indeed. Still, while the dance off is nothing new, to its credit American Wedding includes an extremely funny one.)
After American Wedding the series was wisely left alone, save for four spin-off films starring Eugene Levy that I’ve never actually felt the need to see, and unless the government introduces compulsory viewing of the extended Pie world box set in the future, I never will. Those involved with the trilogy probably realised its lack of longevity, and they seemed to realise the need to protect what was basically a decent comedy legacy; spin-offs aside, there were no further American Pie films. The plot – such as it was – appeared to be at a logical end point too, and until Superbad a few years later Hollywood seemed keen to leave the genre on the back burner. American Wedding was a full stop.
Fast forward a decade or so, and we have American Reunion, which came out in 2012. Critics generally pointed out at the time of release that there was enough goodwill towards the main characters to make the whole exercise worthwhile, even if the results were a little disappointing. That’s a point of view that could be applied to the third film in the series, but not the fourth. Whether there will be any goodwill left in the baking tray when American Pie 5 comes out of the oven in a year or two (yup, it looks like it’s going ahead…presumably Jim and Alison will be building an extension to their house with hilarious consequences) remains to be seen. Five? Seriously? This is getting dangerously into Police Academy territory here.
The plot in American Reunion is thus: Kevin has married someone. Oz is a sports presenter. Finch has supposedly been travelling the world. Jim and Michelle have a kid. All are seemingly in the throws of a mid-life crisis, a decade before most other people have one. They all return to their native Michigan to attend their high school reunion. The Sherminator appears at some point. Pie films were never big on the plot, and you should know the rest by now.
In Reunion we are served variations on the same old jokes and situations, but with each film the age of the main characters increases and it all becomes just that little less believable. Not that it ever was believable, but it’s far easier to watch a film about excessively dumb teens acting like excessively dumb teens than to sit through a film about adults acting like excessively dumb teens. Harmless fun is fine, and that’s all Reunion is, but it’s not enough on its own to sustain interest over a twelve year span and four films. That we’re even talking about a fourth film is of course a sign of considerable (monetary) success, but Pie will be remembered less and less fondly each time another sequel appears at the box office. As the characters appear on screen to soul-search and wrestle with life’s growing pains yet again, only this time as a group of friends well into their early 30s, you end up miserably thinking “oh come on…grow up”.
And so there’s the rub. It’s a teen comedy, but with adults, and it feels like everyone should have moved on by now. More importantly, American Reunion is also a teen comedy largely without jokes. While I watched it I tried to be objective, and tried to forget about all that had gone before it, to see whether American Reunion could stand on its own and make me laugh. Apart from a couple of minor chuckles, it didn’t.
Directed by: John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Written by: John Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Eugene Levy, Seann William Scott
Running Time: 113 Minutes