(Netflix Streaming, March 2017) Direct-to-video American Pie series spinoff Band Camp is not what we’d call good … but it does follow the basic elements of the series from which it’s inspired. Tad Hilgenbrink turns in a Stifleresque performance as, indeed, Stifler’s younger brother, proving just as mischievous as his role model and ending in Band Camp as punishment. What follows is a typically neutered version of an American sex comedy: heavy on juvenilia and humiliation, low on actual nudity or eroticism. It’s crude and innocuous at once, happy to wallow in low jokes and idiot plotting. As background noise while doing other work, it’s almost perfect—you just need to perk up once in a while whenever Eugene Levy shows up as a camp counselor or whenever something funny threatens to happen (it seldom does, but it’s important to give the film a chance). It may or may not be noteworthy to remark that twelve years after its release, you practically can’t find any known name in the cast—for all that I liked of Crystle Lightning’s presentation as an uncommon ideal of beauty, much of the film’s cast has since, at best, peaked in TV shows. But such is the life of a direct-to-video film—Band Camp wouldn’t have a tenth of its current awareness had it not been branded as part of the American Pie series. One the flip side, I’ve seen much, much worse before.
(On DVD, May 2016) Thirteen years after the original American Pie, the goal was to bring back nearly everyone associated with the series for one last (?) bash. Wisely embracing its entire cast of characters, American Reunion goes back to high school (sort of) to bring back everyone for a summer reunion. Some stuff seems out of place, such as a curiously vicious feud between our protagonist and some lunkheads, but in other ways American Reunion does make a more conscious attempt at recapturing the original. Interestingly enough, it does so in a context where it acknowledges the evolution of its characters, showing them married and mature while still hanging on to some of their initial wildness. Sequels that acknowledge the time between their instalments tend to carry more poignancy that those who don’t, and it’s this heartfelt sentiment that excuses some of American Reunion’s less compelling moments. Perhaps fittingly for the series, Seann William Scott’s Stifler is now a full-fledged member of the main cast, and he gets a victory of sorts in the series-old MILF feud. American Reunion isn’t at the same level as the first film or arguably the second, but it’s well handled enough to bring some joy still.
(On DVD, May 2016) This third entry in the theatrical American Pie series deviates from the first two in at least two fundamental aspects, one good and the other not-so good. On the good side, it does try to make its characters grow up: Our series protagonist is now ready to marry his high-school sweetheart, and much of the movie repurposes the good old humiliation-comedy framework of the series to the wedding shenanigans. It works, and provides a nice sense of continuity and meaning to the series. More puzzlingly, the film chooses to focus on a subset of characters and a scope that seems far more narrowly focused. It simply seems as if something is missing. It doesn’t help that Stiffler’s been promoted to a lead character and that he seems to be made even more obnoxious early on to justify his eventual redemption. His final screw-up is so contrived as to defy explanation. Still, there’s some good work here by Jason Biggs and Seann William Scott, a few capable set pieces (the gay-bar sequence works well, for whatever reason) and the spirit of the series carries forward even in a more limited scope. I’ll say one thing, though: American Wedding is now partially redeemed by the existence of a fourth entry (American Reunion) that returns more closely to the roots of the series rather than letting it end on such a limited note.
(On DVD, May 2016) To its credit, this sequel to American Pie doesn’t take the easy way out of trying to do the same thing in college. Surprisingly enough, it returns to the same characters one year later and follows them as not much has changed in the interim. The action eventually moves to a beach house for even more rowdy fun, the same comedy engines powering this follow-up: one string of humiliation comic set pieces after another. (The fake-lesbian sequence is probably the film’s highlight, and it does manage a nice balance between lust and laughs.) Stifler’s back in an expanded role, Stifler’s mom’s return is highly anticipated, but most of the characters are back with various things to do. The standout actors are pretty much the same: Jason Biggs as the hapless protagonist, Eugene Levy as a well-meaning dad, Seann William Scott as the life of the parties. American Pie 2 isn’t quite as fresh as the first film, but it offers more of the same pleasures without too much fuss along the way.
(On DVD, May 2016) Everyone has their list of movies that other people can’t believe they haven’t seen (“What, you haven’t seen Star Wars?!?”) and American Pie was high on mine. For years, I thought I didn’t need to see the film because I felt as if I had seen it all already: Hadn’t I heard enough pop-culture references, suffered through endless imitators? But there’s no substitute for the actual experience of watching the film itself, especially given how it still has a charm that has eluded many of its copycats. It remains one of the definitive teenage sex comedies of the past few decades, focusing on the pursuit of sex as a rite of passage, and the conclusion that it’s not that important compared to love. Despite then-cutting-edge Internet jokes (early streaming humour!), it has aged surprisingly well, largely because it’s so heartfelt. The structure is squarely built on embarrassment set pieces, with comic sequences strung one after another within a solid but unspectacular plot. I am far away from the target audience for this film now, but it’s refreshingly free of smirking in how it treats its characters. Despite being male-centric, American Pie isn’t cruel to its female characters—in fact, the males usually take up the brunt of the humiliation, while the women are too smart to embarrass themselves. Standout performances include Sean William Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs as the much-humiliated protagonist. Surprisingly enough, many of the pop-culture references about the film actually concern bits that took bigger importance in the sequels: I’m particularly thinking about Stifler’s character and his mom, not to mention Alyson Hannigan’s quasi-cameo considering her role in latter movies. (The MILF thing is the MILF thing, though, even though I was surprised to be reminded that John Cho is the one who made it mainstream.) Still, even more than fifteen years later, American Pie holds up relatively well … as long as you can stand the sex = humiliation comedy equation.