“American Reunion” that some old slice of pie

By Herb Scribner

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It was like that warm, friendly piece of pie, just like Mom used to make.

Relying on its old tricks – and not necessarily bad ones either – “American Reunion” brings back the loveable and warm laughter of the “American Pie” trilogy that defined the late ‘90s and early 2000s frat-style comedy. And much like its predecessors, “Reunion” inspires all types of emotion for its audience – from laughter to tears to out-right vomiting.

OK, not really that last one, but close to it.

But while these tricks are fun for everyone to enjoy, the film lacks development within its own continuity and shows an overall absence in overall comedic growth. It still feels like a shot of nostalgia from the early 2000s more so than something that can rival present day comedies.

Much of the original cast is back for the latest installment of the franchise that inspired a couple sequels, as well as several painfully bad direct-to-DVD spin-off sequels, which barely count as members of the series, much less legitimate films due to the lack of any original cast members and comparatively inane subject matter and execution.

While the “American Pie” franchise has indeed endured some mind-numbingly excruciating follow-ups – “Beta House” and “The Book of Love” come to mind – at least this theoretically allows for “American Reunion” to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes in a true return to form for the series. All of the original cast absent from the series’ recent abominations return, from Jason Biggs as Jim Levenstein to Chris Klein as Chris “Oz” Ozstriker and even the not-so-important-but-still-relevant Chris Owen as Sherman, a.k.a. The Sherminator.

Like the title suggests, the boys from East Lake Falls, Mich., return home for their high school reunion. All the boys – Jim, Finch, Kevin, Oz and Stifler – use the occasion as a chance to correct their lives and get away from reality.

Though the overall storyline isn’t something to gripe over, it’s the films use of its characters which throws everything off a bit and makes the viewing a tad uncomfortable.

Firstly and most surprisingly, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) barely has an arc in the film, despite being an integral part of the first two films. He barely makes himself noticeable, rather becoming the punch line of several jokes as well as a piece of trouble for Vicky (Tara Reid), his ex-girlfriend and first love.

Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) also spends little time on screen, with most of his scenes being flirtatious conversations with series newcomer Selena (Dania Ramirez). Finch’s dialogue gives the viewer a chance to catch a breath before moving back to the heavier scenes with Jim and Oz.

But what really stuck out in terms of character development – or lack thereof – came from Stifler. In “American Wedding,” Stifler appeared to have finally grown up and taken a step towards maturity. But in “Reunion,” Stifler is back to his original depraved self, which shows very little care for his character. While detailed attention to character development may not be the main reason most people see an “American Pie” movie, it takes a sledgehammer to what little continuity even the legitimate segments of the franchise offered, making the previous movies seem completely useless. Stifler was a huge piece of the puzzle and was featured prominently, so to let his resolutions from previous films fly out the window with the bathwater doesn’t really do justice to one of the series’ more iconic characters.

Stifler’s stalled growth is very “been there, done that,” – an unfortunately frequent theme in sequels that runs constantly throughout “Reunion,” and is really the film’s only negative mark. Audiences have seen Jim in these kinds of snags before, they’ve seen Stifler grow up and they’ve seen Finch make jokes about banging Stifler’s mom. It’s all been done before. And while it was hilarious then and funny to look back on, it’s not something that stands very tall on its own in the fourth installment of the primary series.

Don’t worry, though, because “Reunion” still manages to inspire laughter throughout. There are some hilarious scenes involving kinky sex gear, a see-through dish, marijuana and “the fuzz,” a sock, a bathtub and, without getting too into detail, Stifler finally gets revenge on Finch. In other words, all the trouble a fan of the original films could hope to see the gang get into goes down. But it’s very tired. It works well for people who know of the series and who begged for a true sequel, but will fall flat with those who haven’t caught a glimpse at the original trilogy.

The “American Pie” trilogy should get credit for defining comedy for an entire generation, paving the way for comedies like “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” – stories about everyday, loveable losers making something of themselves. It’s the plain and ordinary, day-to-day life, brought to the big screen.

But “American Reunion” feels stuck, and that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a reminder, a flashback to the olden days. It isn’t meant to redefine comedy again or score huge numbers. It’s to give the viewers another glimpse at the lives of these ordinary high school friends and give us another slice of that oh so savory pie. The one question fans and new viewers have to ask is: are we tired of this flavor yet?

Herb Scribner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Scribner.