Movie review by Greg Carlson
The original “American Pie” worked because it was genuinely clever and inventive, despite its reputation for outrageous, gross-out gags. The large ensemble interacted like a group of people who really knew one another, and even though the primary plot revolved around male buddies vowing to have sex with their girlfriends by prom time, the females weren’t just left on the sidelines with nothing to do – in some cases they turned out to be far more interesting than the boys vying for their attention.
By the time the inevitable sequel strolled into theatres in 2001, practically everything that made the first “American Pie” so enjoyable had been replaced by leaden gags that seemed to go on forever without generating a single chuckle. Somehow, the second film figured it could get by exclusively on the “charm” of accidentally ingested bodily-fluids and painfully embarrassing sexual situations in which the protagonist is humiliated in the most mortifyingly awkward ways imaginable. Character development was an immediate casualty, and protagonist Jim’s relationship with geek flutist Michelle delivered little of the kinky promise alluded to with that quotable phrase “this one time, at band camp…”
So apparently Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) stayed together for the long haul, and decided to tie the knot, but you would hardly know it from the plot of “American Wedding.” While Jim at least hangs around for most of the lame action, poor Michelle practically disappears from the movie altogether. What a shame. Hannigan is at least as gifted as Seann William Scott. But one supposes that because Stifler turned out to be the “breakout” character of the series, the filmmakers just figured they would build the entire story around him. This is a major miscalculation, and it torpedoes “American Wedding” swiftly.
Scott’s portrayal of Stifler was one of the funniest things about the original “American Pie,” but he has certainly worn out his welcome. A funny thing happened between 1999 and 2003, though, and it shows in every phony giggle and forced profanity that passes Stifler’s lips. Screenwriter Adam Herz appears to have forgotten how to write for his own creations: where once Stifler was immediately identifiable as the archetype of that one guy we all knew in high school, now he is merely a bogus, hollow imitation. That one of the movie’s plot lines revolves around Stifler teaching Jim how to dance doesn’t help matters either.
Director Jesse Dylan phones it in with near-incompetence, even choking on the internal pacing of short scenes. In addition to the criminal underutilization of Alyson Hannigan, Herz’s script also drops the ball on several other important characters. Thomas Ian Nicholas has always been a drip as Kevin, and in “American Wedding” he has finally been relegated to standing around and nodding. It seems like he has no more than half a dozen lines in the entire movie. Eddie Kaye Thomas’ Finch (weirdly, the character who has changed the most from movie to movie) is allowed a bit more to do. The additions of January Jones, Eric Allen Kramer, Deborah Rush, and Fred Willard – who all do good work – cannot save this mess. Perhaps all of the actors can be put to better use in the next “American Pie” movie. Or maybe they will just give Stifler his own starring vehicle.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/4/03.