American Pie largely succeeds in delivering what it promises: a 15-rated studio-backed version of those 18-rated independent sleazefests from the early 1980s. It keeps the general narrative thrust of the Porky's/Screwballs movies - a bunch of guys try to lose their virginity - but knocks the corners off its now mostly sympathetic male characters, and crucially casts smart, talented actresses in the roles of no-longer-sex-object females blessed with post-feminist thought. Its money scene - the one we've all seen in the trailer - features a horny lad getting intimate with an apple pie; tonally, it's a million miles away from similar scenes in Philip Roth's novel Portnoy's Complaint and Jean-Claude Lauzon's 1992 film Léolo, where raw liver was the culinary object of desire, an instant course in the fleshy carnality of adolescence - the apple pie here is symbolic of how the sex comedy has had to be sweetened to be anywhere near palatable in the post-AIDS era.
One could say it's been artificially sweetened: a last-reel gearshift doesn't come entirely naturally, interrupting the characters' sincere expression of sexual and romantic ideals with endless cutaways to cheap gags. This is the big tease of Porky's, reconfigured to fit a gross-out comedy released in the wake of the Austin Powers films: a series of delayed climaxes, pay-offs waiting to happen. Still, those gags are well sustained by a diverse and enthusiastic cast: with a name and a look like that, I sense Mena Suvari will be a screen goddess in years to come, and Eddie Kaye Thomas's Finch is a memorable comic creation, a guy who, only minutes after the virginity-losing plot has been hatched, dutifully rolls out the putter and balls to play mini-golf, cool as you like. All the favourites of the early 80s teenpics are here: spying on naked and semi-naked women, bodily fluids flying about, the free and gratuitous deployment of laxatives. Twenty years on, there's a warmness and familiarity about these old standards, like a dreadful covers band doing "Don't You Forget About Me" at prom night. Or maybe it's the warmth and familiarity of hot apple pie itself.