Nearly 10 years after American Wedding, the third — and, it once seemed, last — installment in the popular American Pie franchise, the gang’s all back for a fourth go-around. The actors, many of them now in their mid-30s, look understandably fuller in the face and thicker around the waist. The jokes, too, are starting to show their age: They wobble and limp where they once sprinted.
American Reunion has all of the ingredients that made the previous Pies so popular: outrageous bits of explicit sexual comedy; sudden in-your-face shots of nude body parts; incredibly inappropriate (but sweet and funny) situations; some revolting gross-out gags; and a prevailing affection for this large cast of characters, who never quite imprinted the popular culture as deeply as the Animal House or The Hangover crew did, but are still likable and fun and a perfectly fine gang to hang with for a couple of hours.
The problem with American Reunion, which was written and directed by Jon Hurvitz and Hayden Schlossberg ( Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), is that the movie never overcomes the feeling that it is — above all else — an attempt to wring a few more dollars out from a once-profitable franchise. Although the actors are game — Jason Biggs remains as fearless as ever to humiliate himself for the sake of a laugh, and Seann William Scott has elevated Stifler’s man-child antics to John Belushi heights — there’s a draggy, by-the-numbers feel to the picture: There isn’t a single surprise in it. The movie is just more of the same, only now the characters are adults, which makes their horny-adolescent antics less funny. You keep wanting to tell them to grow the hell up.
The premise of American Reunion, in which everyone flies home for their 12th high school reunion and catches up with each other, is that no matter what paths their lives and careers took, everyone reverts to his old self the moment he’s back in the adolescent milieu. The directors have managed to round up nearly every single actor who ever made an appearance in the films, which means some are going to get a lot more time than others. Chris Klein is funny as a TV news reporter who because famous after a controversial stint on a Dancing with the Stars-type TV show: Tara Reid, whose face has been Botoxed to the point of immobility, is wisely relegated to a couple of brief scenes. Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge steal the film outright from their younger co-stars, showing them how it’s done.
American Reunion makes a half-hearted attempt to explore how to juggle marriage and parenthood without losing track of your inner child. But that forces what should have been a rambunctious, no-holds-barred comedy to pause for scenes involving heart-to-heart conversations and other mature, grown-up nonsense. The script is also lazy: Whenever there’s a scene in which Biggs and Alyson Hannigan need to be somewhere without their baby, they conveniently just drop him off at her grandmother’s house, eliminating the dilemma of parents who want to have fun without ignoring their child. The movie won’t seem nearly as funny if you haven’t seen the first three American Pies — for one thing, you will miss a lot of in-jokes — but the kids who grew up watching those pictures are probably too old to enjoy the tomfoolery of the new film. American Reunion has its moments, and there are a couple of great raunchy bits here, but it also reminds you that sometimes, skipping that high school class reunion isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Cast: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge.
Writers-directors: Jon Hurvitz, Hayden Schlossberg.
Producers: Chris Moore, Craig Perry, Chris Weitz. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 113 minutes. Vulgar language, considerable nudity, sexual situations, drug use and other naughty behavior. Opens Friday April 6 at: area theaters.