Baked Goods Part 8 (American Reunion, 2012)

american_reunion_posterAnd the franchise came full circle with the first theatrical release since American Wedding. Overseen by director Jon Hurwitz, (director of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), American Reunion completely ignores the films that came after American Wedding.  This was, of course a wise decision.  Also wise?  Centering the film around a class reunion.  This keeps from having to come up with weird plot devices as to why everyone would be located in the same area.

And they brought everyone back for this round.  Granted, in some cases it is a blip and you miss it moment (such as Natasha Lyonne’s character Jessica).  The film introduces us to Jim and Michelle’s life as parents, with a scene reminiscent of the first film’s opening sequence…except this time around, it is being caught by the kids.  Truthfully, this scene does not fully work.  I get they are setting up that their relationship is strained.  But I think they might have been better to set this scene up with the couple trying to have together time that they sorely miss.  Most parents have tales of the kids walking in on intimate moments and there is all sorts of ways to play that.

However, Biggs and Hannigan really work well together.  We also meet Kevin, who is now a happily married father and house husband (for the most part).  Oz is now a successful sport-caster on a sports network and Finch is appearing the wandering soul he has always tried to be.  Stifler (with no acknowledgement of his supposed Girls Gone Wild career in Band Camp) is now working as a temp for a Geek who has made it big.  Apparently his biggest nightmare.  Tara Reid returns as Vicky, who causes Kevin to question the could have beens.  Heather and Oz are no longer together and their story line focuses on the re-kindling of their relationship.

The cast remains likable in the film, especially when they get to channel the qualities that made them sympathetic.

The film focuses on marriages/relationships in trouble and questioning where people find themselves years after high school and the disappointment they may feel.  Some of this actually works well in the film.  Jim and Michelle are struggling to make it work, and Jim’s dad is struggling with being a widower.  Jim shows a lot of his dad’s heart, even in scenes where things are starting to fall apart.  Jim has an opportunity, but really walking out on Michelle or cheating on her are not true options for him.  Oz and Kevin deal with temptations against their relationships.  Oz keeps thinking his girlfriend (played by Katrina Bowden) is cheating on him, due to him finding her in many compromising situations.  But, of course, his heart yearns for Heather.

This is a fairly decent return to form for the franchise.  American Reunion has welcome laughs and heart.  The ongoing story line of Stifler’s mom is actually resolved in an unexpected way that works nicely.  It does not abandon it’s gross out humor, but it is not so overwhelming as to becoming off-putting.  If you enjoyed American Pie and American Wedding, this is a decently enjoyable enough follow up.

Baked Goods Part 7 (American Pie Presents tBook of Love, 2009)

American_Pie_Book_of_Love_posterThe seventh film in the franchise attempts to right the sails by focusing on a new set of young men.  There is still a Stifler, but he is the bad guy and foil of the lead and his buddies.  Rob (Bug Hall) and his pals Nathan and Lube (really, the nicknames in the middle part of this franchise are terrible) discover the titular Book of Love.  This plot device is actually something from the first film.  It is a tome that guys added their own experiences to and it supposed to spill the secrets on how to get girls in to bed and how to drive them wild.

The boys try to make the book work to their favor, but everything keeps backfiring.  Rob really want to just make things work out with his best friend Heidi (2 Broke Girls’ Beth Behrs).  He wants to date her bad, but she is focused on wanting to just lose her virginity.

Eventually, something happens to the book, so the boys set about recreating it with the help of Mr. Levenstein and a host of “Special Appearances by” that really seem to not come together.  I mean, technically, they all had roles in notable college/high school films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Soul Man and Revenge of the Nerds…but none of those really come to mind when they appear.

While the early films had embarrassments like being caught by parents masturbating, the Book of Love writers really up the ante…and not for the better.  Rob is caught by his little brother getting pleasured by the family dog (accidentally) which goes viral, because his brother filmed it (!).  Would this really be something that a kid face minor ribbing at school?  Rob seems to bounce back from every humiliation quite well.  And the film mines Moose rape for comedic purposes.  Because a guy getting raped by an amorous moose is just hysterical.

The film throws in bizarre plot developments.  After Rob and Heidi confess they are really into each other, she suddenly decides to lose her virginity to Stifler for…reasons?  The storyline with Rob’s friend Lube is a tired trope in which the schlep desires the top sexy cheerleader.  Listen, the less attractive person who wins over the attractive person can be done well…and it happens in real life.  But it is also ridiculously overplayed in male fantasy.

Like other films in the series, women behave in improbable ways, because the creators really do not put much thought into the female characters.  They mainly are whatever the need to be for the scene.  So, for instance, Ashley (the previously mentioned cheerleader) is a mean girl who humiliates Rob.  In another she is just the misunderstood girl who can be won over by Lube.

The film tries to bring back the charms of the original, but the characters are not up to the task.  The film often overshoots and the result is another disappointment.

Baked Goods Part 6 (American Pie Presents Beta House, 2007)

american_pie_beta_house_posterThis continues the story of Erik Stifler.  And the Stifler-centric nature of things continues to not favor the franchise.  This film hammers home what crappy people the Stifler Family Tree is…it appears almost every branch is rotten.  Erik’s biggest struggle in life is not living up to the Stifler name.  He is not good at partying or getting laid.  Early in the film, his father (Christopher McDonald) provides a list of all the women he has had sex with.  Erik is startled to see the list does not end with his mom.  Cause nothing is good for a laugh like implying he is a terrible husband.  Erik’s friend even notices his mom’s name is on the list.  The Stiflers are terrible people.  Why does Erik want to measure up to that?  But he has no girlfriend now, so he can have a romantic interest at college in his co-ed dorms.

He joins his cousin Dwight in the Beta House and this is where the real sto-oh who am I kidding.  There is no “Real Story”.  It is just more cheap excuses for nudity, because that is all that happens at frat houses according to movies.

The loose plot is how the Beta House Frat Bros are being threatened by the powerful Nerds on campus.  Seriously.

The film lacks any strong jokes, and at this point, I am embarrassed for Eugene Levy, and Mr. Levenstein’s strongest traits are missing entirely from the film. The film simply recycles gags from a variety of frat movie stereotypes, and reversing the Revenge of the Nerds dynamic is not creative enough to make  the story remotely fresh.

Again, the same criticisms of Naked Mile appear here.  It has the same problematic treatment of it’s female characters.  They are empty and are used primarily for titillation.  The guys only fare slightly better in that they are absurd stereotypes of college guys.

 

Baked Goods Part 4 (American Pie Presents Band Camp, 2005)

American_Pie_Presents_Band_CampAfter American Wedding, the producers got the idea of keeping the name of American Pie out there by doing direct to video sequels.  They decided to visit the infamous Band Camp.  The tale focuses on Stifler’s little brother Matt (Tad Hilgenbrink), who like his brother is mostly referred to as Stifler, though he wants to be called the Stiffmeister, his brother’s nickname.  He is a jock, and like his brother sets out to humiliate band geeks.  His nemesis is Elyse (Arielle Kebbel).  After a prank in school gets him in major trouble, he is sentenced to Band Camp by Sherman (Chris Owen appeared in previous American Pie films as this character, and now he is a guidance counselor).

Matt tries to use this to his advantage.  His brother is apparently running a Girls Gone Wild type of business.  Matt orders all types of spy cameras to set up around the girl’s rooms and showers.  He then proceeds to mock his fellow band mates, making no effort to bond.  Of course, we all know he will start to fall for Elyse and kind of like the other kids at the camp.  Which will all come crashing down when they find out about the cameras.

The film sets up such a great fall, Matt’s attempts at redemption seem hard to accept as being effective.  The film steps up the raunch, trying to compete with other films such as the short lived Van Wilder series.  It’s female characters are all sorts of problematic.  Almost every woman in the cast is eye candy, with only Elyse and her best friend fleshed out at all.  The film flat out has adult counselors getting it on with students.  It is, of course a joke, because it is the attractive female counselors with young teen boys.  but the fact that Matt is doing something highly illegal, including filming illegal acts is troubling enough.  That the entire camp’s resolution of the issue is to shun Matt and pretend it never happened, so the camp is not totally humiliated.  So, sweep all the illegal behavior under the rug.  This is a consistent problem within the franchise.  Illegal activity is just a story or plot device to be resolved with little impact on the characters.

It really tries to have some heart, by bringing in Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy, and now referred to as Mr. Levenstein).  He is the guide to a better path for Matt, but of course, it takes the entire film to realize it.  And it just never recaptures the magic Levy brought to the role in previous installments.  The film was directed by Steve Rash, whose main claim to fame as a director is 1987’s Patrick Dempsey feature Can’t Buy Me Love.  Far from the worst, and in some ways better than the second or other later installments, the film just does not come together and the final results are pretty mediocre.  Kudos to the casting folks for finding a guy who looked like he might be related to Seann William Scott though.

Baked Goods Part 3 (American Wedding, 2003)

American_WeddingAmerican Wedding focuses heavily on the next step for Jim and Michelle, which was a wise move.  It’s secondary focus is on Stifler, which dominates the beginning of the film.  That is a very rough start.

The scenes with Jim and Michelle work well.  They are likable characters.  And to play Michelle’s parents, they got the terrific Fred Willard and Deborah Rush.  The early scenes where “Stifler Ruins Everything” are tiring.  But, somehow, they start to transform Stifler.  Oh, sure, he is a douche, but they really play up just how badly he wants to be liked.  This results in the homophobic character trying to prove to the patrons of a gay bar that they totally want him.  The dance off he starts is actually quite amusing.

Again, a lot of the heart is from Jim’s dad.  There is a genuinely heartwarming moment where Michelle is feeling uncertain, and she seeks the advice of Jim’s Dad.  When she mentions Jim told her he is the person he trusts most for life advice, Levy’s face lights up, like he always wished this was true, but never believed it.

This installment is notable as Shannon Elizabeth, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne and Tara Reid are completely absent.  I suspect they had no idea how to fit them into the tale.

There are gross out jokes, embarrassing moments with Strippers at the bachelor party (Aspects of this scene work well, as everyone tries to cover up, when Jim unexpectedly brings Michelle’s parents back to the house).  Despite a rocky start, American Wedding is a surprise, and one of the best of the franchise.

Baked Goods Part 2 (American Pie 2, 2001)

American_Pie_2The first film was a big enough hit that we got a sequel.  This time there is no pact, the guys are back from their first year of college and get a summer house so they can party hard.  Pretty much all the girls are gone.  They make appearances, but they are brief.  So it is focused on the boys.  Kevin is feeling apprehensive that Vicky is off having lots of sex, even though he is not her boyfriend…but he is concerned because he has not had much sex since the first film. Oz is bummed by his long distance relationship with Heather.  Finch continues to be obsessed with Stifler’s Mom.

Jim is hoping to have sex with Nadia who is coming to visit him, and seeks the help of Michelle.  This is the real heart of the movie.  Michelle grows as a character who is sweet but blunt.  These scenes work the best.  But other than this, women exist only as fantasy in the film.  They are there to entertain men.  And the portrayal of some of the women suggests the writers do not know any.

Seriously, if a couple women in their underwear discovers a bunch of guys hiding in their bedroom, do you really believe their response would be “Let’s play a “sexy” game?)  No, I think it is safe to say they would be running to get help.  On the other hand, I totally believe the gag where Jim accidentally super-glues his hand to…himself.  That a guy might be that stupid is plausible to me.  That scene also allows for a Patented “Jim’s Dad Speech”.  Dad tries to defend his son, but admittedly makes it a bit worse.

But overall, this sequel is a bust.  Only the Jim/Michelle story works or is sympathetic, it is hard to care at all about the other characters.

 

Baked Goods Part 1 (American Pie, 1999)

American_PieAmerican Pie was a movie released promising to bring back the spirit of films Like Porky’s, Hot Dog, Ski School and Revenge of the Nerds.  They were going to push the boundaries, starting with the plot.  The plot is real simple.  Four buddies make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation in their senior year.

And the film follows their fumbles as they race for that goal.  Sensitive Athlete Oz (Chris Klein) joins the Choir to woo cute and sweet Heather (Mena Suvari).  Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is trying to get his girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid) to give up her virginity.  “Worldly” Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) ultimately tries by being cool and aloof.  Then there is Jim (Jason Biggs), the nerd of the group who pins his hopes on the sexy and sexually available foreign exchange student Nadia.  Jim is repeatedly humiliated in the film.

The thing that is surprising?  This film has a lot of heart.  A lot of that is between the well written and performed scenes between Jim and his Dad (Eugene Levy).  Jim’s dad is part bumbling dad stereotype, part wise sage.  He loves his son and wants his son to succeed in life.  He also tries to help his son navigate the world of relationships.  He stumbles through the attempts, but his kindness is a high point in the film.

The problem is, while the male leads are clearly defined, Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are the only female character who seem to have lives when they are not onscreen.  Nadia gets the worst treatment as her character is literally only there to be someone Jim wants to have sex with.  And when she and Jim have an embarrassing situation involving a webcam?  She disappears from the story  completely.  And Jim, aside from humiliation, suffers no consequences.

The film’s gross out humor goes back and forth between disgusting and amusing.  While Jim’s experiences are funny, the character of Stifler (Seann William Scott) gets the crude and disgusting moments.  The character is pretty repulsive, constantly putting down the guys and making terrible sexual come ons  (bordering on harassment) to the women around him. He is a sexist homophobic guy, and an all around unpleasant character.

The film also has the characters come to the realization that the pact is absurd.  That sex is not the most important thing, and their pursuit of it was fruitless.   And then the film ends with all the guys getting laid.  So, way to undermine the revelation.  Admittedly, it plays an important role for Kevin and Vicky dramatically (their experience is awkward and uncomfortable, and is spelling the end of their relationship, not fulfilling it).  And Jim’s experience has a comedic payoff.

The film has it’s laughs and it’s heart does make it stand better against the test of time than films that tried to follow it’s success.  But it is at best a flawed but entertaining comedy.

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