Monday, 30 April 2012

Old boys' club: "American Pie: Reunion"

The premise of American Pie: Reunion is that the fresh-faced virgins we first met back in 1999's American Pie have grown up into sexless, middle management-inhabiting, reality TV-watching mediocrity, which anyone who's been following the careers of Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas over this past decade will soon realise has a kernel of cruel comic truth within it. Jim (Biggs) and his ditzy beloved Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) - last seen getting hitched in 2003's American Wedding, now bringing up baby - have been reduced to taking their sexual gratification from shady websites and the showerhead respectively, which seems somewhat banal, given Michelle's previous aptitude around the woodwind section. Nicholas's Kevin, meanwhile, is being held prisoner by a fiancee who subjects him to nightly episodes of Real Housewives and The Bachelor. "Do you know who my favourite housewife is?," Jim asks him over the phone. "It's you."

The one member of this gang who's refused to grow old gracefully is, inevitably, Steve "the Stifmeister" Stifler (Seann William Scott), who - whether marching up to complete strangers to inquire "who's this douche?" or prescribing banging an 18-year-old as the cure for Jim's bedroom blues - is the jolt of rude comic energy a lagging franchise like this badly needs. Stifler remains the one Looney Tune character - a pottymouthed Tasmanian Devil - in this pack of new fathers and corporate drones, and American Reunion, which gathers the boys together once more on the occasion of their high-school reunion, perks up by a factor of ten whenever Scott, and his broadest of shit-eating grins, is on or around the screen. Otherwise, the new film - ignoring that rash of direct-to-DVD sequels (Band Camp, The Naked Mile, Beta House) that now show up on Viva in the early hours and are best left there - has been compiled exclusively for those male viewers who were themselves virgins (or, at best, inexperienced) at the time of American Pie, and have since grown up and settled down only to be baffled by the perceived sluttiness of young girls nowadays, by gay marriages, by the fact their former sweethearts have grown old and fat in their Facebook photos. 

In these bromantic times, perhaps it's inevitable that the women who were as much a part of those earlier films barely register at all in the new venture. They're left on the sidelines while their beaux decide whether or not to swap them with other guys or cheat on them with younger models, or - in perhaps the most notable and proactive example - employed as a topless prop for an entire ten-minute stretch of slapstick. Of course Tara Reid and Mena Suvari were going to sign up again, given how their careers have stalled, but it seems criminal that Reunion should only have come up with one scene for Natasha Lyonne - whose droll, proto-Lohanisms were key to how those earlier Pies undercut the maleness of their enterprise - and that said scene should begin (and more or less end) with her speaking the line "Just so you know, I'm a lesbian now."

It would be unfair to say there aren't laughs in or things to be enjoyed about this sketchy, patchy, overlong venture. At its best, American Reunion evokes the cosiness of being back among old friends: the manoeuvring-on of minor characters from the earlier films takes on an inspired, knowing lunacy towards the end, and the new directors, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, bring from their Harold & Kumar work some facility for tempering the gross and the crass with the heartfelt and sincere. They at least realise that the heart of this franchise is the relationship between Jim and his dad (here, newly widowed, and again played by Eugene Levy) - one of the few father-son relationships in modern American cinema to be entirely healthy, for all its toe-curling frankness.

Yet too often in Reunion, the emotion appears only half-felt, there to justify a comic default mode of laziness: passing references to Chumbawumba, scenes that fall back on characters wearing S&M gear (generally a lameness klaxon) to get whatever laughs they do. What's happened is that American comedy has itself matured over the last decade, and in the age of Judd Apatow and Tina Fey, Lena Dunham and Glee, or even those self-same Harold & Kumar flicks (which rescued John Cho, a minor player in the early Pies, from being forevermore known as "the MILF guy"), it may no longer be enough in itself to make jokes about the struggles of white boys to get laid, in movies where everyone sips their beer from plastic cups. Like the analogue jazz mags in Jim's top drawer, or the Montell Jordan and Blink 182 records we hear on the soundtrack, American Reunion is finally just a little too Y2K.

American Pie: Reunion opens nationwide from Wednesday.