I have a question I’d like to pose to Jim Levinstein, the hero of the “American Pie” series: did you think that was a good idea? I’d be asking about the scene midway through “American Reunion” where Jim, suffering through a sexless marriage to his wife, decides to spice things up a bit by donning an S&M outfit. At a crowded high school reunion party. Without locking the door. I’m curious as to why, with his storied history full of sexual misadventures that nearly always result in public humiliation, he would think that this time anything other than embarrassment would ensue.
It’s this sort of question that mars the integrity of this iconic series, now on its fourth theatrical installation (plus four aggressively abysmal home video entries). It’s difficult to enjoy the punchline when the characters studiously set up the gags for themselves instead of naturally walking into them. It’s only by dint of strong performances that these sort of awkwardly crafted scenarios generate the moderate laughs that they do. We laugh in spite of the writing, which says much about the actors and little about the film itself.
That said, series fans and those with modest expectations regarding a fourquel sex comedy should be satiated. It’s to the series’ credit that it remains relatively fresh despite the passage of time and proliferation of hard R comedies. Whereas “The Hangover” sequel failed creatively by a verbatim retread of its plot-heavy predecessor, the “American Pie” series never relied much on story, its laughs fueled by the archetypical characters reflective of those real-life individuals recognizable to the audience. The edginess of the humor has waned a bit as mainstream comedies have become exponentially more sexually explicit through the series life, but some shock value remains, cushioned by the warmth afforded to them by the actors and the script. One can tell that the filmmakers really do like these guys, even as the lesser parts are largely thankless and exist purely to supply moral and practical plot dilemmas.
The story entails virtually the entire cast of the 1999 surprise hit returning, the characters hitting a high school reunion just as their post-quarter-life crises are flaring up. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) struggle with their sex life. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols) is somewhat emasculated (albeit happy) in his marriage. Oz (Chris Klein) has a lucrative but degrading career as a D-list TV personality. And Stifler (Sean William Scott), the series endearingly prone and wild sexual harasser, languishes away at a thankless corporate job. Thankfully for the gang, one can come home again, and pretty much pretend the years since one left never existed. In other words, romance, bromance, and sexual misadventures aplenty.
Of course, by the end of the reunion week, everyone’s problems are more or less solved by a combination of friendship and carnal action. The philosophy of the series could be described as a tweaked version of “Sex and the City”‘s, where everything’s alright as long as friends can hang out, share some beers, and get laid. Even Jim’s widower dad (Eugene Levy) manages to get some, courtesy of Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge), the original MILF that ended up proving the series’ most enduring contribution to the cultural lexicon. This slice of pie might be enjoyable, though despite closing mutterings to the contrary, I think audiences should consider themselves stuffed as far this franchise is concerned.