Monday 30 April 2012

From the archive: "American Pie Presents Beta House"

American Pie Presents Beta House is American Pie 6, by my reckoning, and if you're wondering where the previous two sequels got to, you clearly haven't been spending enough time in the videoshop: instalments four and five went straight-to-DVD. With the exception of series talisman Eugene Levy, who can't surely be this desperate for the work, the rest of the cast (yes, even the Thomas Ian Nicholases) and most of the writing and production team have moved on; these increasingly cheap products are a(nother) sign of the extent to which Hollywood is becoming overrun with slick-tongued fratboys who once jerked off to a Betamax copy of Meatballs and have determined to recreate their experience for today's 15-year-olds.

The narrative throughline appears to be Steve Stifler's younger brother and cousins, background characters in the earlier, theatrically released sequels, and now old enough to enrol at university themselves. Played by slappable smirkers substantially less charming and funny than Seann William Scott, these young Stiflers here take up the cause of Beta House, rightful home of feckless party boys, whose rivalry with Geek House has been aggravated by the fact the hottest women on campus hang out with these dotcom millionaires-to-be - because, as we all know, women are only after the contents of a guy's wallet.

The Simpsons, famously, went from strength to strength after shifting its focus from Bart to Homer, but the Pie franchise seems to have undergone a disastrous paradigm shift: dropping the good-hearted (if hapless) Jim (Jason Biggs in the first three films) to pitch its camp very firmly and unironically among the Stiflers of this world. Beta House operates under the mindset that fraternities - and their stupid fucking pledge tasks - are the second coolest thing in the world; the coolest, of course, being that projectile vomit can turn a woman's T-shirt opaque, a "gag" so hilarious it immediately gets replayed on video.

In retrospect, one of the most appealing aspects of the originals was the manner in which they combined gross-out laughs with hard-won life lessons; they were romantic comedies as much as they were sex comedies, which demanded, and insisted, its female characters be as strong as, if not stronger than, the boys serving as on-screen surrogates for the male writer-directors. One can only assume viewers approaching college age are going to be severely disappointed when reality fails to measure up to the expectations raised in the course of Beta House: the women here are perpetually hot-to-trot floozies played by surgically reconfigured no-marks, recruited chiefly for their willingness to perform regular T&A duties. I never thought a franchise could make one long for the halcyon days of Tara Reid, but apparently it is possible.

(December 2007)

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