Established in 1999, the American Pie franchise has become a rival to our previous heavyweight champion, National Lampoon. When National Lampoon delved into weaker direct-to-cable movies, American Pie followed, both damaging their brands with Dorm Daze and The Naked Mile respectively. In many ways, they’re the Ewok movies of milking the Star Wars franchise after Return of the Jedi. Plus: American? National? Baseball, you guys!
And that’s when it dawns on me that, until American Reunion, there hadn’t been a theatrical release of an American Pie movie since 2003’s American Wedding. It had been so long that Jim and Michelle’s wedding is all but forgotten, the second movie barely an afterthought. It’s fitting, then, that American Reunion is afflicted with the same fuzzy memory and only focuses on the first movie, which was obsessively watched over and over again my senior year of high school. (I’m also Class of ’99.)
American Reunion feels like a lot like my own high school reunion. There are some friends I’ve kept up with over the years (Alyson Hannigan, John Cho), others I’ve wondered what happened to (Seann William Scott, Eddie Kaye Thomas), and finally the ones I kind of hope don’t show up (Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas).
American Reunion revisits all the old sets from American Pie, but also suffers a little from following the paces of the original. Both start with Jim’s botched masturbation, build to everyone getting laid while Jim has a sex-related kitchen mishap, and finally, a toast at the local hot dog stand which has managed not to become a Starbucks.
To set up the movie, Jim and Michelle (Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan) are experiencing some marital difficulties since having a kid. Conveniently, everyone gets an invite to their 13 year reunion “because we forgot to do the 10th.” Oz, Kevin, and Finch (Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Eddie Kaye Thomas) meet them back in East Great Falls a few days early to catch up.
Meanwhile, Stifler (Seann William Scott) has been left off the invite list
because that worked in American Wedding because he’s a jerk still since American Wedding only kind of happened?
Wedding must be the stillborn child nobody likes to talk about but can’t avoid mentioning whenever old photos show up. They openly acknowledge that Jim and Michelle are married, and that Oz missed that wedding because Chris Klein thought he was too good for that shit. But, the Stifmeister is right back where he was after the second film, having barely started a different career and never overcoming his sexual criminality to finally grow up. So, Stifler’s arc is a either a very sad regression or the product of incredibly lazy writing.
There’s some more of that Oz and Choir Chick*, Kevin and Vicky will-they/won’t-they crap, but this time the filmmakers keep it firmly planted in the background because nobody likes them.
*Fun Fact: Did you know that Choir Chick’s real name is Heather, but Jim’s Dad is actually named Jim’s Dad? Weird.
And Finch is still making up stuff about his past to seem more interesting, only this time he doesn’t bang anyone’s mom. I don’t recall him lying in the other sequels, which leads me to seriously wonder if those are non-canon. Or is it some kind of commentary that, given enough time apart, everyone resorts to their high school bullshit once they’re back in a decorated gym together?
What the film does well is recreating shots from the original, but using them to show changes and reversals of time and fortunes. The best of these shots are between Jim and his dad, who has been widowed for three years; and while they sit looking over the same issue of Shaved from 1999, Jim is the one offering advice to his dad to get back out there.
This is Jim’s movie, as was the original, but — again, with the weird relationship with the sequels — Steven Stifler has become the series’ co-star in the way Fonzie and Urkel became the main characters of their TV shows. But, as mentioned before, we’ve already seen Stifler grow up once, so while golden, his antics feel like they’re strapping on water-skis. The only ones who have a problem with this are the Gang of Four, and they’re forced to recognize that there really is no franchise without “their dick.” However, Reunion tries a little too hard to shoehorn Stifler more into Jim’s history by having him Cartman-up Jim’s bar mitzvah in old home movies, when they were barely peers in the original.
But, really, American Reunion is more about the actors and filmmakers than the characters. Between Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, and now Ali Cobrin, Jason Biggs has clearly enjoyed being the writers’ analog in a field of tits. Chris Klein’s absence in parts of the series due to his own career becomes his character’s reason for missing important events. Eugene Levy isn’t just Jim’s Dad, he’s pretty much everyone’s dad. And John Cho deals with being only known as one of two of the MILF guys by trying to organize the entire reunion by himself.
Although Reunion feels like a series closer, the ending toast hints that they could continue to get together again every year. It was fun to revisit the old formula, but let’s leave the cameras at home next time, fellas. And most of the time (when Stifler or Jim are on screen) it’s hilarious and — in the American Pie way — heartwarming. Go out on the high note that Wedding really wasn’t, and let us grow up.