American Pie: the laughter, the legacy… the pie

By theredraylives | April 6, 2012

With American Reunion opening in theaters nationwide, it’s time to dust off the pie turner and serve up one last slice of pie… by stepping back in time to remember the great moments of the original Pie films… and to hope that the reunion wipes the stink of American Wedding from our collective minds.

American Pie
Four and a Half out of Five Stars

The summer of ’99 brought an unforgettable marriage of comedy and heart to the screen in the first slice of American Pie. Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) make a pact to lose their virginity before they graduate from high school. Hijinks and hilarity ensue as each of the boys tries in his own way to achieve that end- Jim by tutoring the gorgeous Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth), Kevin by learning how to pleasure Vicky (Tara Reid), Oz by joining the choir and serenading Heather (Mena Suvari), and Finch by buying his way to popularity (only to be hilariously thwarted).

Of course, one cannot mention American Pie without a mention of one of cinema’s greatest creations, Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott). Sometimes cheering his friends to victory, sometimes goading them, sometimes humiliating them, Stifler embodies everything at the end of the path the four boys think they’ve embarked upon. Yet in their journey to lose their virginity, each learns something about himself, about sex, and about love. For as much as the film is about sex, it is about growing up, it is about friendship, and it is about being there for each other when no one else is.

Of course, some parts of the movie simply work better than others. Oz and Jim are infinitely more interesting characters than is Kevin, and every time he and Vicky are on-screen, the energy of the film absolutely and completely dies. Finch is a compelling character, but his plan to buy his way into popularity seems strikingly out-of-character for Finch, who seems quite content in his own world and doesn’t really seem to look to others for approval (though the argument can be made that Finch, for all his quirks, is still just a teenager trying to be somebody in the social cesspool that is high school). And no words can express the absurdity that is Stifler’s little brother, though with Steven as his mentor, it’s hard to see why he is exactly that.

The first slice of Pie is such a fantastic and resonating film because it isn’t just about trying to get laid- it is about “taking the next step.” A wonderful combination of cast, raunchy humor, excellent writing, and fully developed characters makes it more than just another movie about leaving adolescence. It is all-too-real, and while one’s humiliations might not be as horrible as Jim’s- while not everyone will get a chance to nail Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge)- there is something here that anyone can relate to. Four and a half out of Five stars.

American Pie 2
Four out of Five Stars

With the second slice of Pie, two things are clear: our characters are still struggling to make that next step, and they haven’t forgotten the magic that made the first American Pie a wonderful film. Home from their first year of college, the boys decide to get a summer beach house to party the summer away and make everlasting memories. Kevin’s world is thrown upside down when Vicky comes back but isn’t interested in getting back together, while Oz is separated from Heather for the season. Finch continues to lust after Stifler’s mom, Stifler still wants to party and get laid, and with Nadia headed to the beach at the end of the summer, Jim is determined not to repeat his past mistakes. So he turns to Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), his prom one-night stand, for some pointers on how to become a better lover.

Not to say everything is a step above the first in this outing. The sex and raunchiness goes a bit over the top, particularly when one is forced to endure the agonizingly long scene where two girls taunt and torment the boys by having them play a fun, sexual game of “you go, we go.” The joke gets old pretty fast, especially since (as an audience) we know exactly how it’s going to end.

Still, the film doesn’t lose its focus on the characters that lie at its center, particularly Jim and Michelle. No one is forgotten from the first film, and everyone is still evolving- Kevin has to come to terms with being friends with Vicky, while Oz deals with being half a world away from Heather. Finch, finally frustrated by his over-preparation, learns how to let loose and relax. Stifler is fun and ridiculous, but never really too much. If the first Pie is about “taking the next step,” then the second Pie is definitely about coming to terms with exactly what that step is, and what it means for each of the characters. Some of them don’t step forward at all, some are pulled forward, others pushed- and some realize that maybe the step they’ve taken was in the wrong direction. When the dust settles, the second outing measures up in nearly every way to the first, expectations that were let down in every conceivable way with the atrocious American Wedding. Four out of Five Stars.

American Wedding
Two and a Half out of Five Stars

Coming into the third slice of Pie, Jim has finally decided to pop the question to Michelle over dinner- but in classic Jim fashion, he’s forgotten the ring, and his dad comes to the rescue. Michelle, meanwhile, has decided to become a bit playful, leading to an embarrassing but heartfelt scene that is Pie through and through. Sadly, this is the last time that American Wedding really feels like a true Pie film, relegating itself instead to self-parody at best.

Not learning from the few mistakes of part II, the whole affair decides that it is best if it goes completely over the top- raunchiness, gross-out humor, absurd situations, and all. American Wedding is an exercise in patience, particularly for fans of the series. For starters… where is half of the cast? One can forgive the absence of Mena Suvari or Tara Reid (as clearly, there wouldn’t have been room for them in this film), but where is Chris Klein? How can Oz not be at Jim’s wedding? Worse, this is never even addressed in the film- what’s left here is about half of the cast, and not a single word is whispered about any of the missing cast members. Especially in the case of Oz, this is just a huge letdown.

Worse, the remainder of the cast is either completely wasted (Kevin is relegated to a background character here who does absolutely nothing the entire film), or they become absurd caricatures of themselves (Stifler has managed to go from that guy you love, but hate, to the guy that you can’t stand watching). Both Stifler and Finch are wasted in back-and-forth attempts to win the affections of Michelle’s sister Cadence (January Jones). Also on the subject of Stifler, the writers seem to have decided that they absolutely hate his character. Stifler isn’t exactly the most heart-warming character out there, but in this film they go out of their way to do everything they can to humiliate him and make his character even worse over and over again. If he weren’t acting so reprehensible the entire film, one might actually be compelled to feel sorry for him.

The film isn’t without its touching moments, especially when it comes to the wedding itself and Jim and Michelle’s journey together to reach the altar (not to mention their individual journeys). Jim’s dad (the always-hilarious Eugene Levy) and Michelle’s dad (the welcome addition of Fred Willard) provide some of the better humor in the film as well. Sadly the film takes too many missteps and is so over-the-top in most places it is absolutely painful to watch. Outside of Jim and Michelle, there is no real character evolution here, and one can daresay that most of the characters have regressed. It’s as if all the great development of the last two films was just tossed out the window, and what the audience is left with is raunchy for the sake of being raunchy. Two and a half out of Five Stars.

American Reunion
????? out of Five Stars

Officially opening in theaters nationwide today, American Reunion is already a step ahead of Wedding in that the entire gang is back. Check out the red band trailer- I don’t think a single character from the first film is forgotten. The film certainly has a great legacy to live up to, and one can only hope it far outshines the failures of Wedding- not to mention the direct-to-DVD franchise that seems to be endless. This reviewer will be there opening night to see (what one hopes is) the last slice of Pie- seems it’s finally time to take the last step.

EDIT: The review of American Reunion is now online! Check out my thoughts!!

By Nicholas Haskins

Be sure to check out the other trailers for American Reunion, including the photobooth trailer and the feature trailer. Make sure to check back on this blog for my full review of Reunion on Easter Sunday! Like my reviews? You can find this and others over at my examiner.com page. Want to become my fanboy/girl? You can follow me on Twitter or book my face, and you can subscribe to my reviews.


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