Currently residing in my review notebook is a sheet of paper labelled American Pie 2. On this sheet of paper is a critique of, surprise surprise, American Pie 2. This particular piece of writing gave the film a lukewarm reception. Currently, that page serves no useful purpose. If it were a living entity, it would sit around and mope...or just toss itself into a fire. After a couple more viewings of this teenage sex comedy, I realized something.
I really, really like this movie.
By all rights, I shouldn't. At its base level, it's a lot of crude/embarrassing incidents revolving around sex, male genitalia, and female breasts. Really, it's the kind of stuff that I'm not very fond of at all. No...wait, that came out wrong. I really like the first and the third bit, it's just... I - dammit. There's no way I can conceivably write that sentence without sounding weird, is there?
Okay, let's try it this way. This is by no means high comedy. There's a scene where the protagonist, Jim (Jason Biggs), glues himself to a very precious portion of his anatomy. Not exactly what Moliere wrote in his day. When was the last time that Oscar Wilde wrote a witty drawing-room scene where two women agreed to do a little show for some guys if those guys made out with each other? Okay, now that I think about it, Wilde could have very well kept that one stashed in a drawer somewhere. My point is that there's a lot of lowbrow shenanigans going on.
Additionally, there isn't anything resembling a concrete narrative. The original had some small semblance of a plot - four high school guys try to get laid before they graduate. Now, they're put in a wacky sitcom situation: five guys (they moved a supporting player up to full status) rent a beach house for their first college summer...wacky sexual hi-jinks ensue.
But I reiterate. I really like this movie, despite my dislike for lowest common denominator films.
The key to American Pie 2 is that it has heart, and an knowledge of what being at that age is. Screenwriter Adam Herz understands better than most people in his business that being sexually active (or desiring sexual activity) doesn't make you an irredeemable horndog. It's a normal state of affairs.
Plus, the cast is very agreeable to watch. This is especially true of Jason Biggs as Jim, the self-concious dork. With a few stammers and a winning smile, Biggs turns what could have been an irritation into the embodiment of oafish charm. When Jim got into an embarrassing situation, I was actually concerned for him. The rest of the guys aren't quite as good, though Seann William Scott (as perpetual asshole Steve Stifler) and Eddie Kaye Thomas (as the anemic-looking intellectual Finch) steal a few scenes. Chris Klein plays the jock Oz like he just graduated from the Keanu Reeves School of Vacuous Expression, and Thomas Ian Nicholas is barren in the personality department. Luckily, both of their parts are drastically reduced this time around.
The females, although they take more of a background position this time, are nearly all very good. Leading the pack is Alyson Hannigan as band geek Michelle. Her quirky delivery and delightful attitude brighten up her scenes, and since they're typically with the already luminescent Biggs, you may have to wear shades. It's just a shame her part didn't have more dimension. The same goes for foreign exchange student Nadia, performed by Shannon Elizabeth...it's ably played, not so ably written. I'll never understand how Tara Reid could ever be mistaken for a good actress, and Mena Suvari isn't in the movie long enough for me to make a judgement.
The funniest people in the whole cast, though, are the people on the fringe. I'm talking Eugene Levy as Jim's well-meaning but clueless father (there's perfect comic delivery for you). Chris Owen as red-headed dork Chuck "The Shermanator" Sherman. Natasha Lyonne as sexually wise Jessica. Denise Faye and Lisa Arturo as a playful pair of possible lesbians. Each of these actors add a little extra spark of enjoyability to American Pie 2.
But is it funny? You betcha, and it's even more funny because you give a damn about the characters. This is actually a lesson a lot of comedies these days could stand to learn. If you care about what happens to these people and you put them in a humorous situation, then it's going to garner that many more laughs. It's a simple formula that Hollywood constantly screws up.
I don't usually note things like a soundtrack unless I'm talking about musicals or a Cameron Crowe flick, but American Pie 2 has quite an excellent collection of popular hits, starting with some Blink-182, and then throwing in bands like American Hi-Fi, Sum-41, Weezer, and 3 Doors Down (all very good pop rock groups). Additionally, the music matches the action quite nicely. It's all very appropriate to the tone of the scene (esp. 3DD's "Be Like That").
On first glance, American Pie 2 may seem like an inferior sequel to an amusing high school flick. However, I urge you to look past the box and to the film itself. It's not a great film, but it's a fun film. It adds warmth to something that could be banal, and comes out with something that feels slightly new. If you want to switch your higher brain functions off and enjoy something a bit crass, this is probably the best you can do outside the first American Pie.
Reviewed By: Nate Yapp
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