The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


American Reunion

American Reunion opens with R. Kelly's “Bump & Grind” playing over a low shot of a bedroom floor, clothes strewn all over the place. The camera comes to the foot of the bed, which is rocking frantically. As it pans up, we see that, despite all appearances, there is no sexual activity taking place. Instead, Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) is bouncing a baby while her husband Jim (Jason Biggs) works on a laptop. This is the kind of obvious humor that pervades American Reunion. I liked the original American Pie flicks (well, the first and third, at least; the second was just mediocre), but this new installment is overlong and excruciatingly unfunny.

All of the characters return to attend – get ready to hold your sides - their 13-year high school reunion. In order to relive the “good old days,” they assemble early to have a lakeside party and catch up with one another. Everyone, of course, has issues. Jim and Michelle, now married, are having a sexual cold spell. Oz (Chris Klein) is a TV sportscaster who also appeared on a “Dancing with the Stars”-type show. (Are you rolling your eyes yet?) When he sees old flame Heather (Mena Suvari) is dating a handsome doctor, his jealousy begins to flare up. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a henpecked husband who feels guilty over the fact that he enjoys seeing first love Vicky (Tara Reid) again. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) spins wild stories about traveling on a motorcycle through South America. Stifler (Seann William Scott) works as a temp at a financial firm where his boss verbally abuses him. Then there's “Jim's Dad” (Eugene Levy), who is still mourning the death of his wife three years earlier. Jim decides it would do his father good to start dating again.

American Reunion clearly tries to recapture the raunchy spirit of its predecessors, yet it ends up telling the same old jokes in the same old ways. There are probably a dozen sexually naughty set pieces, including familiar bits in which Jim is caught masturbating or in some other form of compromising position. (And if you want even more jokes about Stifler's mom, you won't be disappointed.) This would be okay except that the movie makes one fatal error: it forces the characters to keep acting like adolescents instead of like adults. Everyone behaves exactly the same as they did in the original films, which only serves to highlight the repetitive nature of the material. It would have been so much funnier had the characters been allowed to have some perspective. The comedy in American Reunion should have come from older characters trying, and failing, to deal with adolescent hijinks in a mature way. Having them simply revert to their old, immature selves doesn't work.

The film also spends a lot of time – too much, in fact – trying to squeeze in self-referential jokes to satisfy fans. While it's true that a genuine reunion flick wouldn't be complete unless Shannon Elizabeth's exchange student and the “MILF” guys showed up, their cameos are not naturally integrated into the plot. Oftentimes, it feels like the whole picture is stopping to nudge you in the ribs and make sure you get the gag. There is additionally a depressing predictability to much of the humor. In one scene, Jim tries to hide his erection by placing it on the keyboard of his laptop, so that the screen hides it. Care to guess what happens? Moment after moment is set up in such a way that the comic payoff is telegraphed far in advance of its actual arrival.

I found that the characters were far less interesting than they used to be. The cast may feel that way too. Several of the performers (Reid, Suvari, Nicholas, Klein) seem disengaged and/or a little rusty in the acting department. Seann William Scott, who is a genuinely funny performer, seems liveliest but, like Biggs, he's forced back into the same old schtick.

American Reunion runs nearly two hours. I was ready for it to be over by the 45-minute mark. I didn't laugh one single time. If they were going to make another sequel after a nine-year absence, they should have found a new angle, rather than just recycling everything from the first three installments. American Reunion does what far too many unnecessary franchise entries do: it delivers more of the same, to greatly diminishing returns. I didn't see any of the cheap-o, direct-to-DVD quasi-sequels to American Pie, but this movie feels like it should have been one of them.

( out of four)

American Reunion is rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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