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Entries in American Pie [1999] (1)

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.