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Friday
Apr132012

Chillerama (2011)

Long, Hard, and Full of Semen

As a writer/director, the benefit of making movies outside the Hollywood studio system is that you can put whatever you want on film and not worry about studio notes or censors messing with your vision. The drawback is that there's not a lot of money out there in indie-land, especially for funding horror movies. Which is why Chillerama is such a cool idea. Four creators with varying degrees of Tinseltown success and pretty solid track records outside the mainstream pooled their resources to make exactly the kind of grisly, depraved, and over-the-top splatter picture I'm sure they wish would roll into multiplexes every weekend.

These rare situations are win-wins for everyone involved--except, often, the audience, who must trust that the auteur(s) knows what they're doing. As evil and uncomfortable as studio notes can be, sometimes it doesn't hurt for an impartial voice to ask the big questions, like, "Is this gallon of fake semen one too many," or, "Will people get just how bad the zombie outbreak is if I trim the undead stump-screwing orgy?"*

Such is the case with Chillerama. Adam Rifkin (Small Soldiers), Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs), and Adam Green (the Hatchet movies) join forces to pay the ultimate tribute to the dying drive-in-movie experience, as well as the B- and Z-grade entertainment that defined an era. The directors take turns creating mini movies bookended by teenagers attending the last night of Kaufman's Drive-In. Put-upon widower/owner, Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle), oversees his beloved theatre's final marathon, unaware of the fact that his projectionist has become infected by an STD he picked up while attempting to bang his zombified wife (yep, I just typed that).

The evening will devolve into a limb-ripping orgy of horny zombies and screaming patrons, but first we have some fake movies to watch:

We begin with Rifkin's Wadzilla, a clumsy and only intermittently interesting take on Godzilla, in which the antagonist is a mutated, skyscraper-sized sperm. Set, I guess, in the 50s and filmed with the cheesy sensibilities of no-budget, 1980s junk, Rifkin's entry mistakenly assumes that using stop-motion puppetry, rear-projection, and cornball acting is entertainment enough for twenty minutes. It barely holds together twenty seconds. And were it not for Ray Wise and Sarah Mutch, who play the physician and would-be girlfriend of the schmuck with the monster-making testes (Rifkin), there would be absolutely nothing to recommend here.

After surviving Wadzilla, I checked the time counter on my Netflix Instant player and saw that I still had an hour-and-a-half left to go. It was almost too much to take, especially since I was still fighting a cold. Fortunately, Sullivan's entry perked me right up.

I Was a Teenage Werebear is a twisted, beach-blanket musical set in 1962. Sean Paul Lockhart stars as Ricky, a surf-loving, all-American innocent who falls prey to the cooler-than-everyone charms of bike-riding bad-boy, Talon (Anton Troy). This isn't a simple case of hero worship; no, Talon's Brando-esque powers of seduction bring out a side of Ricky that he'd never allowed to be expressed--much to the dismay of his steady girlfriend, Peggy Lou (Gabby West).

The film is essentially a retro-remake of The Lost Boys, with gay werewolves subbing in for vampires of questionable sexuality. Ricky spends much of the story fighting his strange, new urges, while Talon wrestles with either killing all the small-minded haters in his town or working towards acceptance of his (truly) alternative lifestyle. I Was a Teenage Werebear is preachy, hilarious, uplifting, and really fucking weird. And Troy's cool demeanor and matinee idol looks had me questioning some things--I'm not gonna lie.

Chillerama's strongest chapter is the third entry, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. As the title suggests, the movie takes place during World War II and concerns an alternate-universe (or perhaps just alternate-history?) version of the doomed Frank family. Young Anne (Melinda Y. Cohen) discovers her grandfather's diary, which contains notes on re-animating the dead. Before her father (Jim Ward) can get rid of the book, Adolf Hitler himself (Joel David Moore) barges in and confiscates what will become the blueprint for his greatest soldier. Too bad for him, the resulting experiment yields an ultra-Yiddish golem named Meshugannah (Kane Hodder), who has plans of his own for the Fuehrer and his ultra-slutty wife, Eva (Kristina Klebe).

To be honest, I thought for sure that Adam Green was responsible for Wadzilla, and not Anne Frankenstein. This is the best thing he's ever directed, and shows a flair for the comedic, tasteless, and cheesy that his other work certainly does not; his homage-heavy attempts to be ironically entertaining have always turned me off, but this zany, profane short out-Mel-Brookses Mel Brooks. It helps that Moore is fantastic as an insecure, bumbling maniac, and that Hodder lets loose in ways I never imagined possible after watching him play Jason Voorhees for more than a decade.

The final movie gets cut short by a full-on zombie invasion. Following a pretty funny introduction by dubious medical specialist Fernando Phagabeefy (Lynch), Deathication plows full-steam (or "steamers") ahead with montages of various people explosively emptying their bowels. Mercifully, the chaos at the drive-in halts the screening, plunging us back into Lynch's wrap-around segment, entitled Zom-B-Movie.

A literal orgy of the damned, peppered with Dawn of the Dead references and two love-struck teens who quote movie lines while fighting their way through hordes of ghouls, this stretch feels obligatory rather than thrilling. Lynch does his thing well, and he has terrific, fresh-faced leads in Corey Jones and Kaili Thorne, but compared to the out-of-the-box thinking on display during most of the drive-in movie segments, this pedestrian fight to the death fits snugly inside the box. I must give him credit for the ending, though, which is kind of a touching downer.

It's a shame that Chillerama isn't as consistently funny and entertaining as parts of the film suggest it could have been. At two hours, it nearly buckles under the weight of its own gooey gratuity. But one thing it gets right--which goes a long way in helping us see the thing through to the end--is holding the schlock-horror era in reverence, while also parodying it. In an odd way, this is as much a well-written love letter to B-movies as Joe Dante's Explorers, but with a thousand percent more boobies and jism.

The film had home-run potential, but the giddy, juvenile sensibilities of its directors, I think, allowed the party to run a bit too long and get a tad out of hand. Kaufman's drive-in could have just as easily shown a triple feature on its last night, thus excising a good chunk of the movie's missed-target humor (I'm lookin' at you, Wadzilla). But that's the price we must pay for dreaming of filmmaker autonomy: circle-jerks are a great time, unless the audience is left holding the mop.

*This issue isn't unique to the minor leagues: think of how awesome the Star Wars prequels might have been, had someone smacked George Lucas across the face (literally or figuratively--it's your fantasy) at the first mention of "Midichlorians".

Wednesday
Apr112012

American Reunion (2012)

Saggy Boobs

Once again, I struggle to review an American Pie movie. Sad to say, I'm fighting a hell of a springtime cold, and the fourth film in this series* just wasn't a strong enough dose of laughter to be the medicine I need. Before you get all incredulous and accuse me of harboring a DayQuil-head bias, I should mention that I quite liked American Reunion. It's warm, good-natured, and sweetly nostalgic--but I can't recommend it as a comedy, or a theatrical experience.

Co-writer/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg get their one truly inspired joke out of the way early on, while simultaneously addressing the one issue everyone I know who watched the trailer wondered about right off the bat: aren't the American Pie kids a bit old to be attending their tenth high school reunion? Yes, they are, and thanks to East Great Falls High's bumbling planning committee a thirteen-year reunion is the best the gang can get.

And so it is that the MILF-loving, pie-banging misfits all roll into town. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married--with a kid and without a sex life; Oz (Chris Klein) is a famous sports-caster; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is an emasculated stay-at-home dad; Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a world-travelling man of mystery; and Stifler (Seann William Scott) is a corporate temp who still lives at home with his mom (Jennifer Coolidge).

If you suspect that the marriage will work out, that one of the group will turn out not to be what he seems, and that at least one of them will learn to stand up for himself, you've got uncanny instincts--at least according to the filmmakers. Honestly, I expected a lot more nuance and surprise from the guys who made the third Harold & Kumar movie into an uplifting thrill-ride of vulgar imagination. Perhaps the pedestrian, sub-Porky's high jinks are meant as a meta-commentary on the movie's theme of hip kids growing old and fading into irrelevance. As great as that idea is, the audience still has to trudge through nearly two hours of sitcom writing and the occasional boob/crotch shot.

As I said before, though, I liked the movie. When Jim and his crew aren't trying to sneak a drunk, naked teenager back into her parents' house,** or crapping in the cooler of local high school jerks, they're dealing with serious relationship issues in pretty touching ways. Jim's dad (Eugene Levy) is a widower now, and is reluctantly learning how to get back in the dating game; the role reversal of his awkwardly seeking advice from his son is funny and sweet. It's also nice to see Stifler come to grips with not being the young hotshot anymore. Much of Scott's delivery falls flat, and the actor looks to have far outgrown the role--which works perfectly for his character.

Oz and Kevin are still completely useless--as is, unfortunately, Finch this time around. Though Klein has a wonderful scene in which he performs in a Dancing with the Stars-style reality show; he has a spark here that I haven't seen since Election. As this is ostensibly the series' swan song, the filmmakers bring back everyone from the first movie, including, sadly, Tara Reid, whose Vicky character is given so little to do that her arc involves jumping to a ridiculous conclusion so that she and ex-boyfriend, Kevin, can make up later (i.e. pad out their screen time). Mena Suvari also returns, and is outperformed by her ridiculous blonde wig.

The stuff that works really works, and the stuff that doesn't work is just kind of shrug-worthy. That's a big problem when putting together a comedy. A bigger problem, though, is a lack of a target audience. If Hurwitz and Schlossberg were banking on fans that made the 1999 original a smash, they did the audience a disservice by giving them a late-90s sex comedy with millennial-suburban-male naval-gazing. Sex comedies have grown far bolder, raunchier, and weirder in the last thirteen years--mostly because American Pie gave the writers who came after plenty of things to top (not only in terms of gross-out material, but also in redefining genre archetypes and taking stories to unexpected places).

For this reason, I doubt American Reunion will appeal to today's teens and twenty-somethings, who will likely find the film less compelling than anything they can look up on their phones while in the theatre. With edgy, hilarious "R"-rated comedies like Project X and 21 Jump Street playing in the same multiplex, this film feels more like the re-release of James Cameron's Titanic in 3D--a nostalgia trip for old people that marketing departments really want teens to think is cool.

I didn't mind catching up with Jim and his friends, but I don't know that I'll remember anything about this movie in a couple weeks (except, maybe, Rebecca De Mornay's surprise appearance). In this way, American Reunion is a lot like an actual high school reunion: you show up, smile in recognition or wince in embarrassment, and then wonder what the big deal was on the drive home.

*It's actually number eight, if you count the four direct-to-video sequels that've come out since 2003's American Wedding.

**Cool it, pervs--she's legal.

Sunday
Apr082012

Deprivation (2012)

Another Day, Another $1,000

When I interviewed Cory Udler last year, he said that all of his movies would benefit from another day of shooting and another thousand dollars in the budget. He resurrected this idea a couple weeks ago while co-hosting Fearcast Network's "Smut Elves" podcast, in reference to Nathaniel Scott Davis' new short film, Deprivation. Davis was discussing the perils of sound editing (specifically, the way that on-location wind can completely mess with a scene's integrity) and Udler agreed that a key part of the devil's bargain when shooting independently is not having the resources of mega-wealthy studios at one's disposal.

I understand how important time and money are to filmmaking. I also believe that when a creator releases a movie, they are telling the audience that it is ready to be critiqued--without the benefit of commentary or warning labels describing the challenges that kept Scene X from being well-lit or Scene Y from being completely audible. Unlike illustrators, who often sell sketchbooks along with finished prints, filmmakers rarely apply "Work in Progress" labels to their wares. If they did, reviews for indie movies would likely be much more forgiving--and far less frequent: who wants to talk about a rough draft when the real deal is, ostensibly, just around the corner?

The long and short of it is, if you aren't ready for people to point out the obvious flaws in your low-budget production, don't make it available to the public until the Money and Time Fairy leaves something under your pillow.*

Having said all that, I'm happy to report that Davis' nervousness is (mostly) unfounded. Despite some minor nuisances, Deprivation is disturbing and effective, and kept my blood up from frame one to the final fade-out--not always for the right reasons, but I certainly wasn't bored.

The story is mostly implied, and centers on Morgan (Jeremy Sellers), whom we meet sitting at the grave site of his wife/girlfriend and their child. Resting on the headstone is a hand-written note from Angela (Katie Rusco), who, in the opening scene, could be heard screaming in the next room as Morgan put an axe into her best friend's chest. There's a beautiful disconnect here, as the grinning killer is almost unrecognizable as the mournful dad we see in flashback. Deprivation takes place over the few days it takes from one man to become the other.

In some ways, the film feels like a highlight reel of a longer piece. We know that Angela is somehow responsible for killing Morgan's loved ones, but the "how" and "why" is unclear. Perhaps this is an artsy move on the part of the writer/director, but in cases like this, leaving key information up to the audience is a big mistake (Was it a hit and run? If so, did Angela go to court or prison? Did she walk? Does Morgan blame her for reasons beyond hyper-romanticized notions of Love and Loss that have inspired rain-forests' worth of bad high school poetry?).

Fortunately, Davis has plenty of other arrows in his quiver to distract us from the lack of a motivational through-line. Sellers is sufficiently disturbing and realistic as a small-town nobody who might cling to metal and horror movies as comfort in the face of tragedy. And Rusco imbues Angela with a dour-faced, bump-on-a-log personality that suggests remorse, secrecy, or both. The real star here, though, is Winnie Faye, as Julie, Angela's BFF and Morgan's victim from the opening scene. She's an obnoxiously bubbly innocent who has no clue about what's going on until it's much too late. Her self-involvement is grating (particularly in her big scene, where she takes a thousand years to tell a cute joke), but that's the whole point: had she cared about anyone but her vapid self, maybe she could have reached out to her troubled friend.

Still, I was kind of bummed to see her go.

Also of note is the film's score, which sounds like a modern tribute to John Carpenter's Halloween. The music amplifies the drama and dread in these sad characters' lives, and my only complaint is that I wish there'd been a tad more variation. Composing themes isn't a walk in the park, I know, so Davis likely wanted to get as much mileage out of what he had to work with. But what began as interesting became slightly repetitive--and ended up being interesting again.

Also be on the look-out (listen-out?) for the parking lot scene. It's no wonder Davis complained about the wind on location as being an audio nightmare. Of greater interest, though, is the fact that Morgan's super-human hearing is never brought up as an issue: while heading to his car from a grocery run, he hears Angela and Julie talking as they enter the store. He somehow manages to hear their entire conversation from across a windy parking lot.

Part of that assessment is snark, but it brings to mind the element in greatest need of fine-tuning. Deprivation waffles between first-person and omniscient points of view. Early on, we hear Morgan narrating his own dark thoughts; later, we see the girls chatting in a diner, with Morgan nowhere in sight. There's also the matter of Angela waking up in her bed from a nightmare. This lack of a clear narrative perspective distracts a bit from some of the deeper points Davis wants to make. But there's nothing so egregious that couldn't be fixed with a well-placed cut-away or two, and the excising of a superfluous scene.

I'm glad to have seen Deprivation, and am keen to see what Davis and his talented crew come up with next. Signs point to a promising future in the slasher biz, as they even devised a movie-within-a-movie that also creeped me out. Whatever the next step, I hope it involves stepping out of this bizarre, reality-as-horror-entertainment realm. Because as happy as I was to see these guys play with story expectations and cool camera angles (one in particular made me jump back in my seat), the presentation made me feel plain icky--as if I were watching the dry-run for a snuff film.

If that was the goal, then hats off to the Deprivation gang. I get the feeling Davis made exactly the kind of movie he would pay money to see, which is cause for both celebration and, possibly, an intervention. I'd definitely watch a movie about that--barring sound issues, of course.

Note: For a limited time, you can see Deprivation for free by sending a Vimeo password request to Deprivation@Fearcast.net. For more information on the movie, check out the film's Facebook page.

*For the record, this personal rule applies to mega-budget movies, too: I hated The Tree of Life for similar reasons.

Saturday
Apr072012

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (2012)

Oddities as Commodities

Full disclosure: Until a couple years ago, I was a bona fide comics fan. I fell out of love with the medium mostly due to budget and time constraints (it got to the point where I was spending forty bucks a week on books I never got around to reading--thanks in part to a renewed obsession with movies). I've also attended Comic-Con five times in the last twelve years, though I haven't been back since The Thomas Jane Affair.

Morgan Spurlock is not the person to make the ultimate documentary about Comic-Con. A serial promoter whose obsession with making himself the story instead of his alleged subject matter, he makes Michael Moore look like the investigator from Citizen Kane. Even the fact that Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is the first of his films in which he doesn't appear on camera feels like a gimmick to get people writing about the fact that it's the first of his films in which he doesn't appear on camera. His movie wears the skin of die-hard fandom, but the central event's geek roots are so draped in celebrity and gaudiness that they're unrecognizable.

On second thought, maybe he's the perfect person to document Comic-Con.

Any lifelong comics fan who's made the annual pilgrimage to San Diego for the world's largest comic book convention will tell you that the four-day-long, pop-culture blow-out has very little to do with paper-and-staple comics anymore; it's mostly a tribute to the movies, video games, and role-playing games that either spun off from the medium's most famous properties, or which share their spirit of escapism. People don't wait on-line for twelve hours outside Hall H to see George Perez talk about the complexities of drawing crowd scenes, but I did once see a semi-organized mob wrap around the top floor of the San Diego Convention Center two-and-a-half times for a chance to see Angelina Jolie promote her Tomb Raider sequel.

Spurlock captures some of that grousing in his film, mostly by Mile High Comics owner, Chuck Rozanski, whose big arc involves trying to make enough profit at the con that he can avoid selling a mint copy of the first Marvel comic (a payday that could net him half a million dollars and a debt-free company). Rozanski laments the change in Comic-Con's focus, but we never get into why things shifted, or when. From Spurlock and co-writers Jeremy Chilnick and Joss Whedon's point of view, the event just stopped being about comics, and the details are unimportant--I suspect their glossing over this point has something to do with being filmmakers who rely on young, cash-rich movie geeks to pay the bills; why rock the boat?

Rozanski isn't Spurlock's only pseudo-subject. In fact, Comic-Con is part celebrity-talking-head testimonial,* part documentary (in that real people appear on screen), and part reality TV show. Yes, I recall Ain't It Cool News' announcement a few years ago that Spurlock was looking for the ultimate comics geeks to follow in his next film (the fan site's proprietor, Harry Knowles, is a co-producer). We meet two aspiring comics artists, a toy collector, a nerdy Kevin Smith fan who plans to pop the question to his girlfriend during a Q&A, and a team of aspiring costume designers who dream of parading their elaborate Mass Effect outfits at the con's Masquerade Ball.

The talent search angle (which is never mentioned in the film) is highly problematic. Knowing about it, I couldn't view any of these people's journeys as anything but The Real World: Comic-Con. The heavily-focused grouped, interesting-looking-but-not-overtly-unattractive subjects come from diverse parts of the country, and Spurlock makes a big deal of small-town dreams possibly coming true. But it's never clear that any of these people struggled to go to Comic-Con (which is an expensive trip, to be sure), or that any of the good fortune and exposure they enjoy at the event is a result of anything but the conspicuous camera crew and filming clearances. In short, Comic-Con, like Comic-Con, is so overly produced that absolutely nothing seems real.

There's also the sticky question of what Spurlock actually thinks of his subjects. We get a lot of costumed fans standing in front of white backdrops, gushing over the fact that they can come to Comic-Con and be accepted for the socially awkward, developmentally arrested freaks that they are (my phrasing might seem harsh, but many fans wear this description as a badge, rather than a scarlet letter). But if you've never picked up a graphic novel in your life, how are you supposed to react to a morbidly obese man in full body paint, pretending to be a buff video game character? The poor guy laments the fact that he'll never have six-pack abs--which is true, as long as he keeps chugging six-packs of Mountain Dew.

I hate violence, and even I wanted to give this clueless dope a swirly.

My biggest problem with the film (and to a lesser extent the gold-standard of geekdom documentaries, Trekkies) is a lack of both context and moderate personalities. Not everyone who attends Comic-Con dresses in Slave Leia costumes or looks like supporting nerds from Saved by the Bell. But you wouldn't know that from watching Spurlock's movie. The only well-adjusted people on screen appear to be the ones making truckloads of money off the hordes who think their fictitious franchises are real.

And I know it's not acceptable to criticize people for their fandom (to each his/her own, or whatever), but there's a pervasive attitude--bordering on snobbery--that suggests this behavior is not just okay, but perfectly normal. Maybe it would have been a buzz-kill to follow some fans from the lives they feel they have to escape all the way to Comic-Con and back, but that at least carries the promise of substance. As it stands, Comic-Con is merely an eight-six-minute commercial for a product that its target audience is already planning to buy--and a warning to the squares to stay far, far away.

Much like this review, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is a mess of half-baked commentary and unrealized potential. Strangely, it pretends that geeks are some closeted faction of society who can only acknowledge their quirks on this strange, little island in the middle of summer--when the reality is that geek culture is the driving force behind all of the money being generated in popular media. But I guess since Comic-Con has become a focus group for content developers, it has to lure the faithful somehow, and painting the San Diego Convention Center as the one place on the planet where one can escape being burned at the stake for liking Star Trek is as good a ploy as any.

Personally, this fan's hope is to see a real documentary about Comic-Con, one not produced by a showboat with an agenda.

*Thank you, Corey Feldman, Eli Roth, Kevin Smith, Seth RogenOlivia Wilde, etc., etc., for explaining that Comic-Con offers escapism for people who don't fit in anywhere else.

Friday
Apr062012

American Pie (1999)

Innocence Lust

Is this the 50s or 1999?

--Huey Lewis

I watched American Pie three days ago, and have had a hell of a time mustering any enthusiasm to write about it. Maybe the film got swept up in the crazy blockbuster year that was 1999, a magic moment in pop culture that gave us The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, and the first Star Wars prequel (among others). Whatever the case, the hype machine and subsequent box office inflated American Pie beyond any movie's capacity to deliver--which makes its mediocrity rather unsurprising.

While struggling to find a hook for this review, I wasted time checking e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and doing some online banking. Then it hit me: part of the reason American Pie seems so tame and weird is that the teenage protagonists are from the pre-tech-bombardment generation. Thirteen years isn't a lot of time, unless you're discussing technology, and the culture's head-long rush towards the singularity has relegated this harmless, millennial sex comedy to the same dusty annals as Leave it to Beaver and first-generation Nintendo.

To wit: the film opens with Jim (Jason Biggs) masturbating unsuccessfully to scrambled-signal TV porn. Only one character in the film uses their cell phone, and he's the older brother of one of the high school students. And American Pie's version of a chat room is kids actually sitting next to each other, speaking--with nary an "LOL" or "whatevs" in earshot.

These aren't criticisms. They're just observations that scrolled across my mental ticker while the story was busy not entertaining me. Four friends, including pseudo-nerd Jim, refined thinker, Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), LaCrosse champion, Oz (Chris Klein), and dude-with-a-girlfriend, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), all decide to lose their virginity before graduation. Complicating matters is a run-in with a strip club owner named Porky on the wrong side of the tracks--

No, wait. Strike that last part.

They guys' crippling awkwardness guarantees they'll never get laid, so they form a fraternity and compete in the college talent show against--

Shit. Which one was American Pie again?

Ah, yes, the one set in the Michigan suburbs. Aside from two major pranks involving a webcam and some powerful laxatives placed in a coffee (sorry, Finch, a "mocachino), American Pie plays like a raunchy, run-of-the-mill high school sitcom. Characters talk in class, in their bedrooms, on the field, and in locker rooms--all leading up to more conversations at the post-prom lake house party, hosted by class jerk, Stifler (Seann William Scott).

Movies this dialogue-heavy must, by definition, feature compelling dialogue. Sadly, screenwriter Adam Herz excels in situations more than conversations. The characters talk to one another, a lot, but rarely is there any "zing" to what they have to say. Aside from introducing the term "MILF" to the world (on behalf of a grateful planet, Mr. Herz, thank you), I can't think of a single, interesting thing anyone says in this movie.

In fairness to the writer, the cast doesn't exactly pop off the screen. I swear, Herz must have been forced by Universal execs to make his gang of guys a foursome; it shows in the dead storylines of Oz and Kevin. Oz puts the moves on a girl in the glee club (Mena Suvari, whom I don't recall being this terrible), and Kevin goes through hell to get his commitment-obsessed girlfriend, Vicky (Tara Reid), to sleep with him. The black hole generated by this quartet's lack of charisma is a greater threat to the fabric of reality than the Large Hadron Collider ever was.

No, the stand-outs here are not quite in the main cast (except for Biggs, who breaks the Porky's "Pee Wee" mold with self-deprecating humor that masks his loins' desperation). As Stifler, Scott saves the movie from blandness. He brings a new dimension to a character that we'd normally see as the clueless bully or dumb jock--he's both of those things, but he navigates every social circle in the school, making us believe that he could rise to the level of most popular and most reviled upper-classman.

Surprisingly, it's the adults that make the greatest impression. Eugene Levy plays Jim's well-intentioned-but-really-awkward dad with a sweetness that surpasses that description. He's the definition of hands-off parenting, but is always available to give advice when it's obvious his son needs pointers (and sometimes, when he doesn't). The biggest revelation, in hindsight, is Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler's Mom. Rather than the sour-faced-ditz role she would go on to perfect in Christopher Guest's mockumentaries and on TV's 2 Broke Girls, she's a boozy, sultry cougar who winds up in a reverse-seduction with Finch.* I couldn't take my eyes off her; it's as if Ashton Kutcher had popped up in an Italian Holocaust drama and nailed it.

In the end, American Pie is an okay movie. As sex comedies go, it's hardly a classic, and will likely be remembered more for its popularity than its hilarity. I'll admit that seeing semen in a beer cup is still kind of shocking, but that's not enough to hang an entire picture on (insert joke about Shannon Elizabeth's rack here). Herz and directors Paul and Chris Weitz may have brought the raunchy sex comedy back from the dead, but their movie is an analog zombie in a digital age. Worse yet, it's an analog zombie on the cusp of the digital age--an uncomfortable beast trapped between a time when kids had to go looking for sex and an era when they have to look for places to avoid it.

*Finch hooks up with Stifler's Mom thanks to a prank that deprived him of a prom date. The scene in which he realizes that not only was he the (literal) butt of a joke but that he'd become a humiliated social outcast is one of the film's few, genuinely sincere moments.