“American Reunion” business as usual, with an added layer of bittersweet

The “American Pie” franchise holds a bit of an awkward spot in the realm of contemporary comedy. Having never seen them until roughly a week ago (funnily enough, at the continued urging of my father), it struck me by how, well, tame it all seemed. It certainly wasn’t a strike against the films’ qualities, which were respectable enough, but it was more of a comment on how these films have forced Hollywood to continually one-up itself in crudeness. It set the bar, and was subsequently deemed outdated about 45 minutes later. “American Reunion” here arrives in a landscape that’s seemingly passed it by, with a once-promising cast of actors whose careers, Seann William Scott aside, seem to have passed them by. It’s a bittersweet affair, and I’m not sure if it knows it.

The franchise kicked off with four nerdy West Michigan boys who vowed to lose their virginity by the end of their senior year. Now they’ve grown into full-fledged men with responsibilities, frustrations and babies: the earnest Jim, sweet Kevin, knuckle-headed Oz, and mysterious Finch. For the first time in quite a while, they’re back together for their high-school reunions, as are all their old (and new) flames.

What results is basically a series of romantic criss-crosses, permeated by a couple of outrageously crude set-pieces. Most exciting is the return of Stifler, the outrageously funny man-child whose charm lands much better in his head than it does in real-life. Stifler really embodies what I dig the most about “American Reunion”: it reunites all the elements and characters that gave the originals their personality, but adds a layer of bittersweetness, even sadness to it. Yeah, Stifler’s every ounce as immature and sexually frustrated as he was in high-school. Nothing’s changed. That’s the point.

Helmed by the directors of the two great American masterpieces “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle” and its sequel “Escape From Guantanamo Bay”, “American Reunion” admittedly doesn’t have much flash or pizzazz going for it. But two key sequences: a reunion party and subsequent reunion itself, are actually respectably edited and constructed; aptly juggling 10 or so different storylines, anticipating the moment where they all blow up in one another’s face. Many long-running jokes are resurrected: the characters’ penchants for getting with one another’s mothers, Eugene Levy’s glorious eyebrows, et cetera, et cetera.

The fact does stand that these characters are poorly handled, the plot is forgettable and the direction merely competent at peak. But then again, “American Reunion” is no artful treatise on sorrowful longing for the past. It’s got funny penis and sex jokes, and never presumed to offer otherwise. The fact remains that it’s surprisingly poignant, even reflective at points. It made me feel nostalgia for a franchise I hold no particular emotional attachment to, a feat more impressive than I’d like to admit. B-

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