October 21, 2014

This week’s Popcorn: ‘American Reunion’

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No Pie for this Movie

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

“American Reunion,” another paltry attempt to cash in on the raunch/nostalgia quotient set in motion by Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) and pals in “American Pie” (1999), is a typical example of the one hit wonder that spawns a successful franchise despite itself. It is solely for diehards and others who just can’t seem to get enough grade B soft smut.

Save for a few funny scenes wherein veteran Eugene Levy does his shtick as Jim’s innocently candid dad, the only thing to recommend this mishmash of retreaded dirty jokes is the possibility that it may jog some of your own fond recollections. Drifting off to Memory Lane as a form of self-preservation assures you a far better entertainment.

Whether due to apathy or fear that any cerebral upgrade might upset the bottom line, it’s still too bad directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg didn’t take the opportunity to say something perceptive about high school reunions. If folks are going to imbibe it anyway, here’s a chance to slip in a beneficial component…like adding iodine to salt.

I, for one, am all in favor of throwing oneself, every decade or so, on the sacrificial pyre that is the high school reunion. It’s wonderfully cathartic, oddly dizzying and strangely democratic to see that the nerd who made a fortune for his cure of Dr. San Fernando’s Rare Dancing Disease still envies the former jock, even if he’s now bald and out of work.

But what I really like best about the ceremonial masochism, aside from the just OK prime rib, is the absurd perception of you that some out-of-sight, out-of-mind souls decide to share. Like, “I was always amazed that you had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch every day.” First of all, I didn’t. Secondly, that’s how you’ve defined me all these years?

However, I digress, which is my modus operandi when the film in question deserves just so many paragraphs. So back to it, “American Reunion” touches on the usual stuff of reunions as it specifically relates to the clichéd angst, fears and seemingly dashed dreams of Jim and Co., none of whom has made an attempt to outgrow his sexual adolescence.

In fact, they celebrate it. But while such is often a key component in so-called raunchy comedies, in the better ones, like “The Hangover” (2009), a transcendent, self-parody mixes with some witty truths to legitimize it. Whereas “American Reunion” is more like the 7-year-old who has just learned his first curse word and must repeat it ad nauseam.

The opening scene, apparently just nine jading years after “American Wedding” (2003), depicts Jim and Michele (Alyson Hannigan) as old marrieds before their time. Now with toddler in tow, the attraction that comprised their compatibility has morphed into an awkward discordance, exampled in a slapstick series of sex-related embarrassments.

Oh, but they love each other, we are assured. Otherwise this couldn’t be an ultimately happy, vindicating traipse through post-marital fantasy and flirtation. Going down the line, each of that old gang ‘o’ mine in town for the reunion regales us with his or her specific disgruntlement, inevitably connected to some sexual and/or romantic woe.

Oz, played by Chris Klein, a sportscaster who has recently won considerable notoriety for his near victory on a dance show, has misgivings about the trophy bimbo who features herself his steady squeeze. When the girlfriend/future doc that got away, portrayed by Mena Suvari, shows up with her cardiologist boyfriend, the old flame is fanned.

In a taboo variation on that theme, Thomas Ian Nicholas is Kevin, who, for some reason or another, needs a reencountering with a past heartthrob to find out whether or not he loves his wife. We can only hope such equivocation, a recurring theme in the film, is just the result of a lazy writer and not an accurate reflection of our current crop of humans.

Veering somewhat from this syndrome, but not, heaven forbid, completely void of a sexual angle, Finch’s (Eddie Kaye Thomas) story has more to do with success and status. Arriving on a motorcycle a la a new millennium version of James Dean, we have no reason to doubt his tales of worldly adventure and spiritual enlightenment…or do we?

On it goes, one trite vignette after the next, purporting to wax significant about reunion dynamics, yet barely able to put across its little naughty joke. A few moments capitalize on your own nostalgia. But like that classmate you obliterated from your memory, and then on reconvening quickly remember why, “American Reunion” is an affair to forget.

 

 “American Reunion,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and stars Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Chris Klein. Running time: 113 minutes 

 

 

 

 

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