Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Levy Wasn't Dry

Year: 2001
Director: J. B. Rogers
Cast: Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Shannon Elizabeth
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes 
MPAA Rating: R

1999’s American Pie was a box office smash, making stars of (to varying degrees) Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, and Shannon Elizabeth, and giving Eugene Levy his Leslie Nielsen-esque career realignment. It’s no surprise that it got a sequel with triple the budget, but it is a surprise that American Pie 2 turned out to be the Terminator 2 of teen sex comedies, taking a low budget surprise hit original and ramping it up even bigger and better.

Quick sidebar: Not to get TOO neurotic about a solid comparison, but I do have my doubts that T2 is, as consensus suggests, a better film than The Terminator. I have a soft spot in my heart for he scrappy little sci-fi thriller, but this is all moot considering that both those films are masterpieces and any relative quality is higher or lower by a fraction of a percent. OK. We now return to the review already in progress.

In American Pie 2, everyone’s favorite horny quintet is back from college for the summer! The police are actually doing their job and shutting down house parties, so the boys rent a mansion by the lake for the summer which they can afford by getting jobs as house painters because life was great before the housing market collapsed. Anyway, they all have different goals for their summer, which will come to a head with a huge party at the end of break, although it would be mighty generous to refer to this collection of sex-up daydreams as a “plot.”

Jim (Jason Biggs) wants to hook up with hot exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) who is returning at the end of summer, but he still has only had sex once – and terribly, by all accounts – so he enlists band geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) – a counselor at a nearby camp – to give him some tips. Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) wants to learn the art of tantra so he can experience a new universe of pleasure when he is reunited with Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge). Oz (Chris Klein) just wants a minute alone so he can have phone sex with his girlfriend Heather (Mena Suvari), who is studying abroad. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) continues to be as exciting as a bowl of cold oatmeal, trying to figure out how to be Just Friends with his terrible ex Vickie (Tara Reid). And Stifler (Seann William Scott) just wants to get drunk, have sex, and let the good times roll.

And the filmmakers want to convince us that this is Michigan and not Long Beach, but I ain’t buying it.

I said this movie was the T2 of the franchise and I’m sticking to it. Although it’s even more of a hang-out movie than the meandering original, its sexual hijinks are of a higher caliber, and the one solid throughline (thanks to Jim once again) is the most emotionally satisfying in a franchise with oddly tender wrap-ups, furthering the relationship between Jim and Michelle in an organic, natural way that still allows for wackily shocking sexual misconduct.

And that’s the thing about American Pie 2. Where the original showed naturalistic high school characters, the sequel does the exact same thing, just transplanting them a year into the future. The non-Alyson Hannigan women are much more underserved this time around (Nadia is still just a stick figure with boobs drawn on, Vickie is still terrible, and Heather is piped in occasionally from what I assume is the set of The Musketeer – making stars of your cast makes it difficult to keep them around, so they’re very slightly forgiven) and the gender politics are shakier (though, just like in Dude, Where’s My Car?, the vague undercurrent of homophobia somehow leads Seann William Scott directly into a gay kiss scene, so you won’t catch me complaining – it’s also far less prevalent and aggressive here), but they’re believable college freshmen, trying to act like adults because they’re not in high school anymore, but realizing they still don’t really understand what that entails.

The summer after freshman year was exactly when I started this blog, and I think any rereading of my 2013 material would tell you I can definitely relate.

Where American Pie 2 shows its most massive improvement is the comedy itself, which is much more confident and willing to take risks. The sexual scenarios are turned up to 11, like any good sequel, but they also take the opportunity to diversify the humor, stirring in some equally sophomoric but well-realized slapstick, a couple jokes that arise from sharp dialogue rather than just spoken punchlines to visual gags, and a handful of hijinks that aren’t sex-related at all, making the sexy ones carry an extra punch because the movie has time to breathe.

Also, an American Pie movie’s success is directly proportional to Alyson Hannigan’s screentime, and this iteration of Michelle is the best the franchise would ever see. She’s allowed to develop an actually human angle to the character, keeping the shock gags (which are even brassier –figuratively and literally) but grounding them in something genuine and layered.

The score itself is also much better, descending into spy movie pastiche, noir slinkiness, and cannibalizing any great genre it can to further service the comedy. It’s an unrelentingly fun movie that even survives a grotesquely bloated run time that could sink many a lesser film. Could it do with fewer montages set to Michelle Branch songs? Sure. But in my eyes, American Pie 2 is the perfect evocation of the franchise’s ethos and spirit.

TL;DR: American Pie 2 is an improvement on what was already a raunchy masterwork.
Rating: 9/10
Word Count: 968
Reviews In This Series
American Pie (Weitz, 1999)
American Pie 2 (Rogers, 2001)
American Wedding (Dylan, 2003)
American Reunion (Hurwitz & Schlossberg, 2012)

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