'American Reunion' Worth Attending
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Something awful happened between "American Pie," the lame but highly popular teen-raunch comedy of 1999, and "American Reunion," the fourth and, frankly, kind of enjoyable installment in what became a franchise. And I think that awful thing has something to do with why someone who felt considerable discomfort watching the first film, didn't really mind watching the new film.
That something awful is actually two awful things, both of which are movies with the titles "The Hangover." The two films in that successful comedic franchise are sufficiently hateful and misogynist to make the whole "American Pie" world view look relatively sweet and even, dare I say it, female-empowering, if not actually feminist. As much as "American Pie" wallowed in its sophomoric "Playboy Party Joke" humor, at least it paid something like lip service to the imperative of female sexual pleasure. The "Hangover" de-evolution of the studio sex comedy not only celebrates the ugliest aspects of boys-will-be-boys bad behavior, but treat women largely as actual impediments to getting off. Of course, once that point is made, the "Hangover" pictures run like hell from the ultimate implications of it. (It is perhaps no accident that "American Reunion" is, in large part, explicitly gay-friendly.) Not to mention that the raunch levels of the "Hangover" pictures that coyly flirt with actual sadism in a sickly persistent way that makes, say, the act of putting one's junk into baked goods look positively wholesome.
I never thought I'd ever find Stifler cute. I never gave any thought to the idea that I might ever find Stifler cute. But I think of "Hangover" star Bradley Cooper's unctuous, too-cool smirk, and I contrast it with Seann William Scott's goofball, manic grin, and I think: You know, Stifler's kind of cute. I kind of like him.
This relative sweetness isn't the only thing "American Reunion" has going for it. It's got some pretty good jokes, too. OK, maybe they aren't that good, but they're performed with excellent timing. Most of them focus, as they will, on the varying sexual humiliations of erotic schlemiel Jim (Jason Biggs). The movie was written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the comic dynamos behind the "Harold and Kumar" movies, and while they can't cut loose with this material in the same way they do with those movies, they DO, for instance, know how to get the best out of comic actor John Cho, their "Harold and Kumar" co-star who was, in fact, in the first two "Pie" films and is funnier here in a smaller role than he was in the other pictures. They're also smart enough to put the great comic actor Eugene Levy to better use than the prior films, to the point of finally giving him some interaction here with "Stifler's mom," that is, Jennifer Coolidge, with whom he frequently interacts with in director Christopher Guest's semi-improvised, more sophisticated comedies.
Not that this is what you'd call a comedy home run. It's almost two hours long, about 20 minutes longer than it ought to be, and its reverently conventional three-act structure is pretty ... uninspired. The movie sometimes tends to the priggish side, as in its portrayal of sweet jock Oz's loose-moraled, Hollywoodized girlfriend. Concentrating on the sex problems of the once amiably freaky Jim and Michelle (the reliably adorable Alyson Hannigan), gives Jim an unwelcome distraction in the form of a one-time babysitting charge, the now nubile, gamine and extremely game Kara (Ali Cobrin, who's pretty game herself). The spectacle of a nearly middle-aged male going all agog at the hotness of a woman half his age is not nearly as amusing as Hollywood seems to think it is, honestly. Really, I know they don't make movies about most men, but most men can in fact look at a beautiful young woman and not suffer a major existential crisis as a result.
But, still, the amiability of the proceedings almost convinces you that the project's heart is in the right place, and given the horrors of the raunchy comedy I've had to sit through in the past thirteen years, I even found myself happy to see Tara Reid, and rooted for her as she didn't stumble too badly through her line readings. It brought me back; back to a simpler time. A time before Zach Galifianakis could waltz through a creative sewer and hold his nose over the prospect of working with Mel Gibson, simultaneously.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.