by Steve Habrat
After the flabby and puerile humor that plagued 2003’s American Wedding, it was no surprise that the American Pie series was banished to straight-to-DVD territory. It was apparent that screenwriter Adam Herz had nothing left to do with his characters anymore. American Reunion, the newest installment in the series, is the film that should have been made after the tasty second installment instead of the warmed over American Wedding. Enter new directors and screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who enlist the entire original cast (yes, ALL of them are here) and bake up a hit-or-miss installment for the Facebook generation, one with full frontal nude shots, pubic hair stuck to lips, and a cooler full of feces. I knew these guys could run with the Wolf Pack, even if they are wheezing as they cross the finish line. While the film is a slight return to form for the series, there are still a handful of lulls in the film, which was slightly disappointing because when American Reunion is funny, it had me doubled over in laughter.
American Reunion wisely focuses back on hornball Jim (Played by Jason Biggs), who is now living a fairly normal suburban life with his geeky wife Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan). It turns out that Jim and Michelle have a two-year-old son Evan, who has ultimately caused a hiccup in Jim and Michelle’s sex life. Jim and Michelle return to their hometown of East Great Falls for their high school reunion, shacking up with Jim’s dad (Played by Eugene Levy) who is still grieving his wife who died three years earlier. Jim quickly heads out to meet up with his old group of friends, Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Played by Chris Klein), Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Stiffler (Played by Seann William Scott). As the group catches up, they quickly find themselves getting caught up in the same old awkward situations. They also have to confront their pasts with the return of Vicki (Played by Tara Reid), Heather (Played by Mena Suvari), and Nadia (Played by Shannon Elizabeth). Jim, however, finds himself juggling spending time with Michelle, getting out of humiliating situations, and attempting to help his grieving father get back out into the dating world.
American Reunion does little to set itself apart from the other American Pie installments, rehashing the same old antics that the boys are so fond of. The boys get drunk, talk about sex, and attempt to grow up a little bit here and there. Biggs appears to be more committed than ever as Jim, going so far to bear his privates for a shock laugh here and there. The rest of the cast has greatly improved, yes, even Chris Klein who punches in a watchable performance as Oz. I was shocked that Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to hone in on Stiffler’s arrested development, once again forcing the party animal to attempt to grow up and stop living in the beer chugging past. Apparently, they never saw American Wedding, which attempted the same exact thing. They wisely place Stiffler in the background again, as they seemed to realize that a little bit of his character goes a long way. I was impressed with the emotional twist placed on Jim’s dad, who is at his patient and unassuming best. The early scenes where we catch glimpses of his wounded heart are signs that the franchise is starting to embrace a smidgeon of adulthood, but that all quickly goes out the window when Jim and Michelle drag him to a party being thrown by Stiffler.
The film places a good majority of its focus on Jim, Jim’s dad, Oz, Heather, and Stiffler, almost forgetting about the rest of the cast. Kevin and Finch have almost no reason to be in the movie other than to fill out the runtime with some minor conflicts that they run into. Vicki is there just to look pretty and create a forgettable scenario for Kevin. Nadia pops up for about three minutes, also to look pretty and have a chuckle worthy exchange with Jim, who is of course in an awkward situation. Natasha Lyonne makes an appearance as Jessica, who has a secret of her own to reveal, but then the film moves on and forgets she was even there. There are plenty more cameos from recognizable characters that, if you are a die-hard fan of the series, you will get a kick out of. The film works in a subplot that involves the eighteen-year-old Kara (Played by Ali Cobrin), the girl next door that Jim used to babysit and all the teenage boys lust after. She desperately wants to loose her virginity to the stammering Jim, providing a side plot that is intermittently funny.
American Reunion finds itself all dressed up in the latest fads and trends. There are jokes about Facebook, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, and smartphones, all which will make the older viewers giggle as the soundtrack blares nostalgic 90’s rock in the background. American Reunion also tackles the current hot topic of sexuality, revealing multiple characters to be gay throughout the runtime. The sexuality jokes are usually aimed at the obviously homophobic Stiffler, who fights with all his might not to be repulsed by the reveals, but don’t expect there to be any profound commentaries on the topic. American Reunion ends up feeling both unsullied and dated at the same time. It can still shock with the best of the shock comedies out there, but there was something vaguely old fashioned and, believe it or not, desperate about all of this. The script was horrifically uneven, some of the jokes bombing badly. For a film that is supposed to deal with the challenges of being adults while still holding on to your past, the film shows us surprisingly little growth in any of the characters, an aspect that I was immensely disappointed in. Something tells me that the American Pie gang will return in the near future, the film dropping a less than subtle hint about a sequel in the final frame (Seriously, what else do any of these actors or actresses have to do?). In the end, it’s still the same old comedy that you knew in high school but now with visible crows feet.
by Steve Habrat
While American Pie is beginning to show its crow’s feet, 2001’s American Pie 2 hasn’t aged nearly as bad as the 1999 original. It may be blasphemous to say but I have always found American Pie 2 to be slightly better than the original film, both in story and laughs. Maybe it is the fact that the film is a nonstop party, a beer stained snapshot of these character’s glory days. In the end, I think I like American Pie 2 better because it shows us how these characters have evolved (or stayed the same) and it tackles how people change between high school and college. You are always eager to get back after your first year without parental supervision and trade war stories with your high school pals. Much like the original, the underlying content has found staying power, especially with a younger audience, but I too enjoy watching American Pie 2 and being reminded about the first summer back from pouring over books, cramming for exams, and constant parties. It made me reminisce about a time when I didn’t have a care in the world. American Pie 2 smartly bottles up that electric enthusiasm to see how those who were close to you have changed for the better or the worse.
American Pie 2 picks up with the old gang, showing us their last few days of their freshman year of college. The gang heads home to their hometown of East Great Falls, eager to start sharing their new experiences with one another, most of these experiences having to do with sex. Jim (Played by Jason Biggs), Oz (Played by Chris Klein), Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) head to their old haunts and look forward to summer sipping beers at party guy Steve Stifler’s (Played by Seann William Scott) house. At Stifler’s party, they bump into their old female chums from their high school days, Vicky (Played by Tara Reid) and Jessica (Played by Natasha Lyonne). After a few embellished stories about college, the cops break up Stifler’s party, leaving the gang with no other place to get drunk over the summer. The gang soon finds themselves traveling to Grand Harbor, Michigan to shack up in a beach house for the summer. Jim also learns that foreign exchange student Nadia (Played by Shannon Elizabeth) will be returning home at the end of summer and she is very eager to spark up an old romance with him, leaving Jim turning to the only person he has ever been intimate with, band geek Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan), to help him tweak his sexual sills.
The major handicap of American Pie was the shaky acting from the young leads, mostly from the awful Chris Klein, who has slightly improved between the original and the sequel. Klein still lacks chemistry with his goody-goody girlfriend Heather (Played by Mena Suvari) and it really wounds the film. Suvari certainly tries to coax some out of him, but he is a lost cause. Seann William Scott’s Stifler gets a bit more room to shine in the second helping of Pie, checking in a more obnoxious performance than he did in the first time around. While he remained largely on the outside when the gang was simply trying to loose their virginity, he is part of their inner circle here and for those who hated him the first time, well, you’re going to loathe this beach house bonanza. Biggs gets even better, finding himself in more gauche situations than he did the first time around, even worse because he found out he was horrible at sex and now he has lost the little confidence he once possesed. His chemistry with Hannigan’s Michelle, which wasn’t fully developed the first time, is front and center here. They have some truly wonderful exchanges as she helps shape Jim into an irresistible stud for the gorgeous Nadia. Also a standout is the returning Eugene Levy as Jim’s unassuming father, who tries to give him words of wisdom every time he embarrasses himself.
American Pie 2 fairs better from improved direction and writing, which allows the cast to be a bit more believable. Screenwriter Adam Herz does up at the ante on the sex gags that are sprinkled throughout and he does cook up a few tasty sequences. One scene involving the boys and two girls they believe are lesbians is pretty sharp and full of surprises. It mirrors the Internet broadcast sequence in the original. Another scene involving Jim trying to watch porn and mistaking superglue for lubricant is another winner. Biggs helps the scene by wearing aghast facial expressions, especially when his situation goes from horrible to dire. It is also a bit obvious that American Pie 2 has a bit of a larger budget than the original film, having a much more polished look to it. It seems like the production company didn’t gamble much on the original film, especially since the original is riddled with so many mistakes (the tainted beer cup, the opening sequence that is supposedly taking place at night when we can clearly see sun shining through the windows).
American Pie 2 isn’t any deeper than the original, actually possessing less depth than the original did. The film is more concerned with extended party sequences, trying to squeeze in as much nudity as it possible can, and devising ways to put Shannon Elizabeth in a bikini. There aren’t even any missed opportunities for saying something profound. In a way, this may be why I like the film a bit more than the original. It doesn’t try to be anything else than a party movie that just wants to get laid. Sure it gets the feeling of meeting up with your old friends correct, an aspect that completely saves the film from being irrelevant and disposable. The real saving grace is that the actors are much more comfortable in their character’s skins, making them feel much more real than they did when they were just lowly high school students. It’s the same old debauchery, just a little bit wiser, more scantily clad girls, and with a higher alcohol tolerance.
American Pie 2 is now available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
It has been years since I have visited Jim, Stifler, Oz, Kevin, Finch, Nadia, Jessica, Heather, Vicky, Jim’s Dad, and the rest of the American Pie gang. After digging out my copy of the DVD and re-watching the film, the first thing that struck me about it was how poorly it has aged since its release. The film reeks of the late 90s, all plaid shirts, baggy jeans, and pop punk. Even the picture itself looks faded and crude by today’s standard but maybe I am getting used to watching crystal clear Blu-ray. What hasn’t aged, however, is the content of American Pie, which is all about getting laid and partying with your friends. American Pie packs a plot that will continue to resonate with high school and college kids for years to come, an aspect that solidifies its place on the list of comedy classsics. Better than a good majority of teen comedies that chug beer in the name of all that is crass, American Pie is still a heartwarming film about living it up with your friends and making memories that will last a lifetime.
The plot of American Pie is pretty simple. Four high school friends, Jim (Played by Jason Biggs), Oz (Played by Chris Klein), Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) vow to all loose their virginity by prom night. They are struck with fear that they will all go off to college as virgins and they do everything in their power to make sure that won’t happen. The boys set their sights on a handful of girls including foreign exchange student Nadia (Played by Shannon Elizabeth), affectionate Vicky (Played by Tara Reid), cool girl Jessica (Played by Natasha Lyonne), choir chick Heather (Played by Mena Suvari), and band geek Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan). Naturally, the boys find themselves in all sorts of awkward situations, mostly Jim, who is always experimenting with different ways to pleasure himself, and every time getting caught by his parents or embarrassing himself in front of the entire school. They are also always hanging out with the vulgar Steve Stifler (Played by Seann William Scott) and finding themselves the butt of his obnoxious jokes.
It is strange to look back at American Pie, which packed a supposedly up-and-coming cast, some that never really broke out into any other roles. A good majority of the acting, mostly from Chris Klein, is downright cringe inducing now. It is no shocker that he never really became an A-list actor or a household name, as every line of dialogue he speaks is forced and embellished. The two who really do standout are Seann William Scott’s Stifler, who delivers a handful of funnies and the perfectly awkward Biggs as Jim. American Pie is carried on the shoulders of Jim’s Dad (Played by Eugene Levy) always catching him in some off-the-wall situation that is beyond embarrassing, scenes that will leave you gasping and your jaw slamming against the floor. You’ll never forget the sequence where Jim makes love to an apple pie in the film’s most iconic sequence. His father’s baffled reaction is simply, “We’ll just tell your mother that…we ate it all.” You’ll be in tears if you’ve never seen the scene.
It does still shock me how much American Pie has aged in thirteen years. Many of the skinny jean viewers of today may laugh at the film’s overall look and the corny pop punk soundtrack of yesterday. I can hear them squealing behind their smartphones, tweeting “wtf were they thinking in the 90s! GAG!” Sorry kids, there is no Justin Bieber and Wiz Khalifa anywhere in this film. Yet as I said, there is still quite a bit to relate to in this film and that is what extends its reach and ups the letter grade here. Believe me when I say that you’ll find yourself smiling over the camaraderie found in American Pie, both on the male and female side. The film’s raunchy humor can certainly match the naughty humor of today’s raunch romps, matching Judd Apatow’s cinematic offerings that are so popular. I’d also bet that the American Pie kids can party harder than the Wolf Pack from The Hangover. I dare any scene in The Hangover to go up against the opening sequence of American Pie where Jim watches porn when his mother bursts into the room. Looking back, it is easy to see that American Pie has often been imitated (Road Trip, Van Wilder, Tomcats, and any direct to video sequel) but could never truly be duplicated, this film featuring some truly inspired comedic situations.
American Pie gets far on its boys will be boys premise and the situations are mostly hysterically funny. The film literally embraces toilet humor in one scene involving a character’s crippling fear of taking a number two at school. American Pie ultimately has a touching interior that outshines a lot of the dated aspects of the film. It doesn’t shy away from the female perspective of sex, which is centered on true love and sensitivity in opposition to the boy’s hornball desperation. It is a shame there wasn’t more depth to American Pie outside of the idea of desperately trying to have one last hurrah with your high school chums. The film does have a few opportunities to explore high school cliques, but it goes no further than the band geeks having cool guy Stifler refuse them entry into a raging party, never really elaborating further. It also had a brief chance to tackle peer pressure but that too falls by the wayside. Oh well, at least everyone basically gets along in the world of American Pie and no one can argue with that in these cynical times. Even if some of the sequences have become creaky over the years, jokes have lost some of their zing, and some of the acting is unforgivably amateur, it was still nice to revisit the gang of American Pie and have a beer or three and maybe a few shots.
American Pie is now available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
George Romero has publicly complained about Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of his 1978 zombie epic Dawn of the Dead, griping that the filmmakers never really asked for his permission. I wonder if he has seen Steve Miner’s 2008 remake of Day of the Dead, which knocks off Snyder’s Dawn almost every chance it gets while featuring an embarrassing script and zero traces of social commentary, which is what Romero is known for. As brain dead as one of its roaring zombies, Day of the Dead makes a few nods to the original 1985 Romero film, mostly in the character’s names, but the one positive is that it doesn’t attempt to regurgitate the original’s plot frame by frame. Miner basically makes the film look like a heavy metal music video with sets that look like leftovers from the first Resident Evil, flashy cut scenes, shaky camera work, and an all too brief run time. Making matters worse, Miner fills the film with a handful of crappy C-list actors who can’t find work in A-list films and he almost successfully turns the career of Ving Rhames into a rotten joke.
When a strange flu-like virus hits a small Colorado town, the army rushes in to quarantine those who are sick. The quarantine is lead by Captain Rhodes (Played by Ving Rhames, who showed up in Snyder’s Dawn remake), Corporal Sarah Bowman (Played by Mena Suvari), Private Bud Crain (Played by Stark Sands), and Private Salazar (Played by Nick Cannon). Soon, the infection begins taking a drastic turn as those who are infected begin seizing up and bloody wounds start showing up on their faces. After the strange frozen state, the infected begin waking up and turning into acrobatic zombies who can crawl on ceilings, walls, and sprint around like marathon runners. Soon, Rhodes, Sarah, Bud, and Salazar have to locate Sarah’s brother Trevor (Played by Michael Welch) and his girlfriend Nina (Played by AnnaLynne McCord), and uncover what is causing the citizens to turn into flesh hungry cannibals.
Day of the Dead has so many poorly conceived moments; you have to wonder if anyone was paying attention while making it. Screenwriter Jeffery Reddick borrows the aspect that the zombies are much more aware from Romero’s original, but the film applies it in the worst ways imaginable. The zombies posses the ability to leap around at blinding speed, crawl up walls, and leap from floor to ceiling in the blink of an eye. Yet in one scene, Trevor and Nina are fleeing an overrun hospital and find themselves pursued by a hoard of zombies. Trevor and Nina begin pushing wheelchairs, gurneys, and various medical equipment into the middle of the hall to stall their attackers and the zombies keep tripping and falling over it. You would think that zombies that are capable of crawling around like Spider-Man could figure out a way around some debris pushed into their way. Apparently, no one stopped to ponder this flub. Many other questions arise, like why the zombies skin begins to instantly rot away, why the zombies are super zombies, and why are those so aware? Furthermore, why are only some super zombies and others are not?
Day of the Dead also makes the blunder of shedding light on what caused the zombie outbreak and not leaving it a mystery. Part of the fun of the Romero originals is the not knowing where the virus came from. Day of the Dead concludes with some half-assed explanations that are more preposterous than practical. As was pointed out recently by film critic Jason Zinoman in his book Shock Value, the scariest movies lack a clear explanation of the horror that is occurring. Since Reddick and Miner are doing a remake of a Romero film, you would have thought one or the other would have said, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t add the explanation!” At times, the characters discuss an airborne virus and that some people have a natural immunity to it. I suspect that Miner and Reddick watched Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror a few times before they began making this film, as there are more than a handful of striking similarities.
If the film itself isn’t bad enough, Miner’s cast makes things even more excruciating. The lowest point of the film is the inclusion of Nick Cannon, who tries to play a tough guy bully but is the furthest thing from any of those things. He walks around dual wielding 9mms and erupting with rancid one-liners that leave you hoping that his character bites the dust early on. Spoiler Alert: he doesn’t. Suvari’s Sarah is one note and dry, putting no distinctive spin on the tough-as-nails heroine commando. Michael Welch and AnnaLynne McCord as Trevor and Nina are just stereotypical hornball teenagers, Nina only included to add some sex appeal to the film. They are also apparently very skilled at using automatic weapons, something the town’s gun shop is heavily stocked with. There is also the addition of radio D.J. Paul (Played by Ian McNeice), who is an overweight stoner with no purpose in the film whatsoever. Only Rhames and Sands, as Captain Rhodes and Bud, are the high points, giving minor depth to their pale outlines of characters. As hard as they try, they couldn’t save this shitshow.
While watching Day of the Dead 2008, it’s clear as, well, day why the film was straight to DVD. At a skimpy eighty some minutes, the film is simultaneously too long and too short. The film can’t muster up any anticipation or tension. Things just start happening and you just won’t care at all. It fails to produce any scares and Miner can’t even seem to get the jump scare moments right. The effects reek of a limited budget and the make-up on the ghouls doesn’t even compare to what Tom Savini did in 1985. So determined to ride the wave of the zombie craze that was stirred up by 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead ’04, and Shaun of the Dead, Day of the Dead is the lame poser of the group not to mention poorly timed with its release. For someone who is a diehard fan of this stuff like myself, heed my advice and just watch the Romero original instead of exposing yourself to this garbage. Day of the Dead ’08 should have only seen the light of day as it was being discarded into the garbage dump.
Day of the Dead 2008 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.