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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: American Reunion


AMERICAN REUNION (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, 2012 (Universal)

 American Reunion is indubitably the best of all the American Pie series sequels. Don’t think I don‘t know how much that last judgment is a case of damning with faint praise, or praising with faint damns, or whatever.

But what can you expect from a franchise whose original premise consisted of  losing your virginity in high school, with pies? In Michigan?  The new movie, which probably should have been called American Pie: The Reunion — this title sounds like a serious doc — has brought back virtually everybody you might remember from the various Pie casts: from horny teen turned horny 30-something repressed hubby Jim Levensheim (Jason Biggs) and his even more desperate widowed caterpillar-browed dad (Eugene Levy), to Jim’s four horny chums — sportscaster Oz (Chris Klein), wayward intellectual Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), bearded good guy schmo Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and the horniest of them all, the irrepressible Steve Stifler a.k.a.. The Stiffmeister (Seann William Scott)

Also back for the blast: the guys’ various gal pals and lust objects including Band Camper Michelle, now Jim’s wife (Allyson Hannigan), Vicky (Tara Reid), Heather (Mena Suvari), Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), and the American Pie itself (or at lest its recipe) — and it has all of them doing exactly what you’d expect from the third sequel to a sexy hit suburban teen movie. The one major difference: They feel guity about it. (Though not as guilty as you may feel watching the movie.)

It’s not really a very good show or a very funny one, though it’s not bad for most of the time, and it has at l;east one thing going for it:  Reunion’s writer-directors — Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, scripters (and occasional directors) of the Harold and Kumar movies — seem to like these Adam Herz characters and to feel some sense of responsibility to them, and to the fact that they’ve grown older if not less ridiculous. That doesn’t mean that the five avoid doing the same damn dopey things, and getting into the same inane predicaments this time around. But at least they express a kind of remorse., or a vague self-awareness. (Everyone but Stifler, of course.) And the movie tries, not very successfully, to give them more credibility.

Anyway, there are two great characters in this movie, played by two actors who, I’m convinced, are the main reasons for the series’ success: Levy as Jim’s appallingly pseudo-hip and likably corny Dad, and Scott as the Stiffmeister, horndog in excelsis.

These two are as good — or bad — as ever. Here, Reunion takes Mr. Levensheim to a wild party. and pairs him up (memorably, under the credits) with Stifler’s legendary Mom (Jennifer Coolidge), who has grown up even more erratically than her son.

As for Stifler — well, anyone who went though high school and/or college during one Sexual Revolution or another, and kept their eyes open, probably knows what a well-observed, hilarious, only a bit exaggerated character Stifler is, what a classic party animal generallismo, The other four of these East Great Falls High chummos are affable but fairly typical movie guys, waiting for their Hangover. Biggs plays (well) an amiable neurotic, Klein a leaden jock, Nicholas a glib little guy, and Thomas an over-imaginative tale-teller and fantasist. (Finch claims to have translated ‘War and Peace’ into Latin, for fun.) We can recognize things we know in all of them, a little.

But everything about Stifler rings either true or funny — from his omnipresent wild-ass grin, always somewhere on his face even if its lurking behind his ears, to his congenital madman squint, to his maddeningly no-brakes behavior and his flair for colossal screw-ups. The problem with Stifler, for some critics, may be that they feel compelled to express disapproval of The Stiffmeister’s pathological antics (as if the younger generation might watch Stifler taking a dump in the movie’s bad-ass beach bullies’ beer cooler, and be driven to emulate him).

The point about Stifler is that, even though his work life is show here as a failure (he’s a corporate temp with delusions of grandeur), he‘s also the crazy-swinging comic engine behind the whole movie, the daffily good-natured, insanely uninhibited erotomaniac who makes things happen and has no shame. I knew some Stiflers. So did some of you. Scott nails them all. Or most of them, anyway.

Just the reintroduction of Jim‘s pop and The Stiffmeister alone is enough to raise a little indecent nostalgia in this movie. Or bonhomie, maybe. Not enough to make it a good movie, but at least enough to avoid it being an irredeemably bad one. Be forewarned. Unless you like this kind of show, you won‘t …But then again, Stifler’s back. Somebody‘s singing “Louie Louie” with the original lyrics. (Mr. Leversheim maybe. Or an I only imagining it?) So the party must be going on somewhere. Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie/ Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry...

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon